Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To Everything There Is a Season: Death, Birth and One Last Race At Suffolk Downs

“To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….”           
--Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

One last horse race…

Even though I’ve never been to a thoroughbred race track, never placed a bet, never heard up close the beat of pounding hooves, never cheered as jockeys and steeds whipped around an oval course, still, when I heard the news, I was kind of sad. 

You see this past Saturday the final horse race was held at the Suffolk Downs Racetrack in East Boston. After seventy nine years, the track is closed for good.  Not that Suffolk Downs didn’t have a unique place in history. It was there in 1937 that the storied race horse Seabiscuit set a track record in front of 40,000 rapturous fans. In 1966 the Beatles gave their final Boston area concert at the track. Once one of eleven tracks in the Bay State, the death of Suffolk Downs now leaves only one horse race facility left, in Plainville, and that is only kept alive by the possibility of casino gambling. 

At Suffolk Downs, it’s no more win, place or show.

This death of Suffolk Downs got me thinking about some other Bay State enterprises which are now no more.  Filene's Department Store at Downtown Crossing where my grandmother worked at the jewelry counter. The Boston Phoenix newspaper I used to read on the “T”. Brigham’s where I went for ice cream as a kid. Saint Williams Church in Dorchester where my family attended Sunday services.

They’re all closed now, all gone, joining a very long list, local and global, of things and places and icons either fading or faded away.  Building 19.  The Boston Braves baseball team.  Landline telephones.  Travel agencies.  Afternoon newspapers.  Network TV. Sundays as Sabbath.

To everything there is a season. 

Why do such entities die? Times change but institutions fail to change along with the culture. Human tastes and habits shift. Social movements can’t or won’t adapt or they forget their mission.  Businesses convince themselves they can do what they’ve always done. A new generation finds an older generation’s passionate pastimes passé. 

The temptation in the face of all these endings is to wring our hands at the death of such places. Pine for the good old days. Crankily critique a world that just doesn’t appreciate things like we do. I get that impulse. The longer we live, the more common it is to witness the demise of that we once knew as precious, as our own.  It could be something as simple as a race track or as profound as a church.   

Yet the spiritual lesson I take away from all of these deaths is life. Life: because for the new to be born, the old must give way. For new ideas to flourish, old ideas sometimes have to be discarded. For new ways of living and believing and thinking to take hold, previously held beliefs and thoughts and lifestyles must change. God made our world not static or stuck, but vibrant and ever changing, adaptive and dynamic.  Things just change.   

It has always been so. It always will be so.

I may not have Brigham’s anymore but I do love Ben and Jerry’s.  I loved Filene’s Basement but truth be told, I’d much rather shop online. Newspapers may be thinning but I’ve got cyber access now to more news and information, with the click of a mouse, than I’ve ever had before.  And though I’d love to see my flock in the pews every single Sunday morning, I trust that I can also pastor to them through a text message or a blog post or by email or with a phone call or over a midweek cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Farewell Suffolk Downs. You served your world well.  But it was time to go. What’s next?  Stay tuned.

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