In June 2017, an arsonist burned and destroyed Koret Playground, one of San Francisco’s premier playgrounds. This is the playground where my daughter played with her classmates after kindergarten graduation, where my best friend told me she was pregnant, where I have cried and cultivated friendship. My children always want to go there and never want to leave there. It is convenient and beloved and now lost. The loss of it hurts deeper than I could have imagined.
I know the young and old people who hang around that corner of Golden Gate Park. I see the emptiness in their eyes and the loneliness in their gait. The park is steps away from Haight-Ashbury, an epicenter for homeless youth. They might not know that I see them, and for that I am sorry. It must be a polarizing place, where the happy are very happy, and the sad are very sad. It reminds me of the Bible, mystical and impoverished, where everything is touched by magic and torn by hate. We’ve come a long way from crucifixion, but we have marathons more of healing to do, everywhere across the planet.
In the earth-city where I live, misplaced anger melted my favorite playground, literally. It is next to both a well-traveled carousel and a stretch of grass named “Hippie Hill.” This is the Golden Gate, a world that is gilded and gated and mutable. Though we may think of place as an inanimate structure, place is dynamic and moody. San Francisco has crumbled and burned down and re-built. It is a place people come to seek belonging, people who are immigrants, LGBTQ, minorities, hippies, artists, and so-called tech nerds. San Francisco is both inclusive and exclusive. It loves diversity enough to offer itself as a sanctuary city. It invites people to come, but it doesn’t always make them welcome.
Place affects us in profound often overlooked ways. If I lived in the suburbs or even a less illustrious city, I may not have felt compelled to take a job outside of the home several months ago. Place can teach us to be inhibited or uninhibited. Children who grow up here are less likely to look twice when they see an adult wearing a banana suit, and more likely to become adults in the habit of wearing costumes. A school auction is no longer just an auction, but a show of nostalgia for the eighties. A home is no longer just a home, but something you have to fight for and possibly share. You may have a roommate or a one bedroom and still struggle to pay the rent.
Do people come to San Francisco for the jobs, or do the jobs come to San Francisco because of the people? Did I move here because I wanted to work for a popular website, or do I work for a popular website because I moved here? Do San Franciscans love Halloween because the city loves Halloween, or does the city love Halloween because its people do? Regardless of origins, we commune over our commonalities, and they expand, whatever they are.
What does your place love? Is it football or the beach? Surfing or skiing? Art or hunting? Bernie or Trump? Do you love the same things? Do you feel that you fit in where you live? These are questions we should never stop asking. Because life is short, and we are always changing, and place matters. Place is the setting for our unfolding. It shapes our children and our ever-changing minds. We are none of us static. Every experience expands our perspective and our place directs much of our experiences. I am heartbroken for our playground, but it’s a good reminder of the dichotomy here, the massive gaps we must fill with love.