By: Raymond Greiner
In the early 60’s I lived and worked in Detroit. During this time Detroit was an active, vibrant and thriving metropolis not the hollow place it is today. As I drove to work daily I passed a small deli at 5AM; the light was on, they opened each morning at 6AM. Inside two figures were moving about in preparation for the day’s business. I habitually had lunch at this small deli and they served corned beef sandwiches like I had never experienced before or since. Each sandwich was cut to order and served hot on a choice of exquisite breads, baked nightly by a neighboring business, the Carrini family Italian bakery. This was a small place, a counter, with a few stools, tables and chairs, simplistic and immaculately clean and orderly. The proprietors were two elderly folks, man and wife. They emitted brightness with constant smiles and friendly greetings. This kind of place is not commonly found today, it’s a different world now, as we approach plastic counters with uniformed employees greeting us like trained seals, programmed, infusing synthetic, corporate sincerity and politeness. This deli couple amazed me; they seemed connected by an invisible filament as they jointly performed daily tasks. The wife was the greeter, waitress and cashier, and the husband was the cook and dishwasher. They both mopped the floor and cleaned the restrooms. They opened each day at 6AM, and closed at 7PM, with an hour’s work after closing, 6 days a week. As I conversed with them I noticed each had a tattoo on their forearms, a series of numbers that were beginning to fade with time. Of course there was no need to ask their significance, these were symbolic of a dark time in their lives, as I wondered how they could show such joy in the present.
As we transit the path of life, we each follow a certain light, a beacon, leading us forward to unknown and mysterious places, casting shadows of our past. Our shadows are on shelves in pictures, or in boxes stored in attics and basements, and sometimes we visit, as we drift back and touch these shadows with our minds. Over the many years I have often thought of that Jewish couple, how they embraced their work with such grace. To imagine what horrors their minds held, what their memories must contain, from a time when the world lived in a long dark shadow that seemed perpetual.
There is darkness now, but as I compare present complexities to the time of the deli couple they seem miniscule. Our culture has fallen into a trap of ease and comfort; few today feel the wrath of deep and punishing hardship, as those two beautiful people had known. They were young when they were imprisoned; yet, they rose again and faced the world head on, extracting what they could, always feeling the presence of their shadows as they moved forward to a new light. Can we emulate such grace; discover new meaning and purpose as we transit the labyrinthine of our future? It is our responsibility. It can be done.
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