By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 20 July 2013 in The Madera Tribune
A winged child flees an attack by lions in an apparently controversial metal sculpture at the Iron Bird Lofts in Fresno, California.
I hunted as well on May 27th, but the beauty I wished to catch I had no appetite to harm, though I was no less hungry for it.
Photograph by John Rieping. All rights reserved.
I had parked illegally in Downtown Fresno on Memorial Day, but I hoped a 10-minute stop to hunt urban beauty with my camera would be safe enough. I thought I was just stopping a moment while on my way to the highway, but I would spend my entire afternoon on that spontaneous safari.
I captured the light of many moments outside the Legion of Valor Museum before turning back to my tiny Smart car. But an older bearded man called after me until he had my attention. He left behind his shelter, his belongings, and companion to approach.
"I see people stop and take pictures of that" -- he pointed at the 109-foot Old Fresno Water Tower -- "all the time. I've never been able to figure it out. Why do they do that?" he asked, more or less.
I looked up at the brown-capped tower of white before me with its graceful geometry and decor. A Chicago architect designed the American Romanesque brick tower in 1891, and it had served the city unceasingly until 1963.
"Because it is old," I replied in part. "It is one of the oldest buildings here. It is a landmark here."
His curiosity satisfied, we parted ways.
Down the road, I spotted a proper parking lot and decided to explore what other sights, old and new, Downtown Fresno would present. I began with the oft-forgotten artistry of Fulton Mall, a historic pedestrian-only area covering six blocks of Fulton Street. Dedicated in 1964 as an urban renewal project, Fulton Mall has returned to its depressed roots -- a victim of the ever-so-common downtown flight and blight.
Older buildings have more costly upkeep, society has grown less communal, and shoppers increasingly wanted to minimize outdoor walking. So gradually mainstream consumers and big retailers went elsewhere. Minority and niche businesses were lured in by affordable rent, government offices dominated, and the lovely mall grew ever more marginalized.
I remember visiting Fulton Mall as a child. Or rather, I recall the journey. My grandmother, Carmen Lozano Najar, took me on the public transit system, and I had never been on a bus before. I felt excitement and mystery at the sight of the promenade between shops full of strangers.
Others have different associations. One woman I spoke with associates the mall with feelings of being on the fringes of society, insecure and disrespected. Though she agreed it had pleasing art and ornamentation, it repulses her to this day because of the dark emotional investment it holds for her.
I wandered far beyond the mall along Fulton Street, and to other streets beside. Most striking, perhaps, was the apparently controversial metal sculptures at the Iron Bird Lofts, which show winged humans in distress. In one, a lion devours a cherub while a feline partner leaps after another. In several, cherubs try to escape winged men -- or are being rescued by them.
They're artistic, clever, and impressive, yet disturbing if examined closely. I would hesitate to condemn or commend them, but I wonder what stories lie behind their making.
The aforementioned lofts themselves were appealing and well designed, so much so they almost seemed out of place. I posted photographs of them online and one person asked where I had taken them. He was skeptical it was Fresno.
It seems that we respond to places and sights as much due to our hearts as to appearances. The same can be said of how we interpret much else I suppose. We judge the outlines of life with a crooked eye.
Is there any way to see reality as it is? I believe we can try, and by that effort draw close enough to it to grab hold of truth.
It is not so much that we can possess truth. It is bigger than we are and refuses to fit into our pockets or purses. But we can allow ourselves to better conform to truth, to be changed by truth, and so be possessed by truth.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 13 July 2013 in The Madera Tribune
"Grant misery to me, my Lord and my God," my mother prayed repeatedly Thursday morning. She meant "mercy." But her dark malapropism didn't alarm me. She has moderate Alzheimer's disease, and her reasoning and memory suffers from its creeping blight.
She has better and worse days. I remember one incident when I, my dad, and other family members took her to her favorite eatery, Lola and Rico's Restaurant at 12889 Highway 145, a few months ago. She spotted her youngest grandson, Zachary. Mistaking him for myself as a child, she called out "Johnny" over and over until -- prompted by my brother -- Zachary came. "How are you feeling, Johnny?" she asked.
How fitting that her question would be that. Though I can seem stoic, I have always been an emotional person and in younger years confided in her often. Now I felt a disorienting but happy sense of deja vu as if I were glimpsing my own past from afar in a sort of out-of-body experience.
I imagine that every mother still sees the child in her grown offspring. But my mom sees me best in other children now -- yet loves me all the same.
She generally has a more difficult time when the sun has set, so the longer days of summer are kinder to her. My father, siblings, and sisters-in-law know this best, as they help far more than I in the evenings. Any who desire marriage should see such examples.
My father has grown closer to God, I think, along this spousal journey of heroic love. Without God, family, others, and the refuge of the farm upon which my parents live, I don't know how he would cope.
The Jewish prophet Yirmiyahu of 6th century BC once wrote, "O LORD, I know that the way of a man is not his; neither is it in a man who walks to direct his steps." (Jeremiah 10:23)
Years ago, I jotted that Scripture down along with others. It was a reminder to myself to surrender to God's wishes. Looking it up, I'm not surprised I didn't record the next verse: "Correct me, O LORD, but yet with moderation and not in fury, lest you bring me to nothing." (10:24)
In this 21st century AD, how often do we pray to be chastised?
Well, technically, my mother prayed for "misery." As she spoke them, her words reminded me of the Latin word "misericordia," which means "mercy" and has the roots of "misereri" ("to pity") and "cor" ("heart"). Yet the Latin word "miseria" means "poverty." Romance languages, such as Spanish, continue to use "miseria" and "misericordia" thusly.
Our words reflect our thoughts, so why have so many considered mercy and poverty to be neighbors? Pondering this I recall the story of the widow's mite.
While Jesus and his followers were at the Temple of Jerusalem, they did what many of us still do in public places -- people watching. They saw many wealthy persons throw large donations of money into its treasury. The bags of coins must have produced a satisfying crunch, and if they were loose you can just imagine the clatter.
Then a widow came and threw in two "mites" -- to be exact, two "lepta." The Greek word "lepton" means "small" and described the tiniest coin in the Roman province of Judea. Like U.S. pennies used to be, lepta were made of copper and weren't worth much.
Jesus commented: "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow has cast in more than all they who have cast into the treasury. For all they did cast in (was) of their abundance, but she -- in her want -- cast in all she had, even her whole living." (Mark 12:43-44)
His words turn my thoughts upside down. If mercy and poverty are linked, I had thought, surely it would be because we should pity the poor. But that is not what we see here. Instead, it is the poor woman who gave of herself beyond the point of comfort and security and is praised for generosity.
Those of us who are Christian claim God showed us the greatest mercy in his suffering, death, and resurrection. Does this not suggest that being merciful may, even should, be uncomfortable?
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, once said: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Jesus said, 'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.' The Father's love, the Son's love, and our love is but a giving until it hurts."