Monday, October 7, 2013

Finding Life in the Death Division

One of the awesome things about Boston (and I could make quite a list, including, of course, Mass General Hospital, the hotel which used to be a jail next door, J.P.Licks, the Commons and Public Garden, the colleges, the Greenway, the islands...I'll just stop there for now) is that everything is so darned easy to get to (unless you're stuck in traffic in a car).  There are buses, subways, trains, bikes and cars you can borrow, and the city is walkable.

A field trip I needed to complete before I left my temporary east coast home was to visit City Hall to pick up Tootsie's birth certificate.  City Hall was not far from the hospital, nestled among historic buildings I'd already strolled past.  I invited my sister for the momentous occasion, which we scheduled between feedings the week before Tootsie's discharge.

Boston City Hall, particularly in comparison with the lovely buildings with which it shares its setting, is not cute.  It's blocky and grotesque, built in the 60s and with controversial reception to this day, I've learned.

The inside is no more welcoming, unfortunately, and when you're a government building, you don't really have that going for you anyway.  Add a lot of concrete, dark spaces, and little color, and now we are even more depressed to be conducting Official and Bureaucratic business.

I have a tendency at the DMV or passport office or court buildings to really try and take in all the details, check out the decor, observe the people.  There's something both foreign and universal about government buildings.  I mean, each country has its peculiarities, as Kenya had photos of the president in every room (and lots of posters of kittens), but I could swear that we are all using the same pens and file cabinets, circa 1967.  I wind up both saddened and heartened by the bleak surroundings--so many stations, plain desks, piles of paper, rubber stamps, staplers, file baskets and cabinets.  Everything is in muted colors, including the paint, the worn carpeting or linoleum, and the employees' clothes.  Except the omnipresent fluorescent lights.  At least, I think, we are not wasting taxpayer money on new or fancy stuff!

At the Birth Division at Boston City Hall we first stood in line at  one window to make the birth certificate request, filling out names on a quartered piece of paper (more economy if not technology!) with a golf pencil.  We were then directed around the corner to wait in line to pay at another window, where we received directions to take our receipt to a third window for the actual certificates.  While I was in line I had time to examine the interior of the Birth Division.  I spotted shelves and shelves of binders organized by birth year, holding, I presumed, all the names of people born in Boston since they started keeping track.  And not much else, though I bet there was a microfiche machine or two lurking nearby.

Behind the woman at the third window I spotted a single plant on a filing cabinet--a dying philodendron--in a 90s-style plastic insulated coffee mug with a worn logo.  I nudged my sister and raised my eyebrows and tilted my head in the direction of the sad horticulture.  "Isn't that just a perfect symbol for this soulless place?" I asked.

We grinned wryly and turned toward the Birth Division's next-door neighbor, the Death Division. We both took in the long rows of filing cabinets and shelves, but atop them for as wide as the banks of furniture stretched was a veritable jungle of plants of all kinds, growing curiously well under the artificial lights.  We turned to each other in unison, the same surprised and gleeful look on our faces.  So much life in the Death Division!  Who knew.  And what a contrast.

What's the lesson is in this little account?  I'm not sure exactly.  Maybe it's that we ought to do our best to beautify our surroundings, for everyone's sakes. Maybe it's that death and sadness deserve beauty--and not the artificial-foliage kind.  The kind of beauty that comes from real effort and an acknowledgment that some loveliness in a workplace (or anywhere, really) can bring some joy into the weekday grind, and offer solace to someone on a grim errand.  Perhaps the Birth Division shouldn't take the joy for granted, either.

1 comment:

Heather said...

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