I’m kind of melancholy today. Yesterday’s Ringling Brothers’ Circus was the last event to be held at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ. Ever.
I don’t disagree with the decision. I like the fact that the Devils now play in the beautiful Prudential Center, making Newark a more appealing community. It makes sense that the Nets now play in Brooklyn, a borough with personality and character. For both franchises, being part of a neighborhood beats being known by your Turnpike exit number.
Mine is the melancholy of old Mrs. Threadgoode from Fried Green Tomatoes—released from the nursing home only to find that her old house had been condemned and torn down. Okay, maybe not that melancholy; I didn’t actually live in the arena. But I have lots of memories: I was 14 when it was built in 1981, proud to have the sparkling Brendan Byrne Arena so close to home. At 15 my buddies and I, with our dads, went to the NBA All-Star Game there. Later, when it was the Continental Airlines Arena, I saw the Devils and Globetrotters play there. During the NBA playoffs in 2002, I sat in the very top row and lost my voice as the Nets beat the Celtics on their way to the NBA finals. It might have been a big, ugly box in the armpit of Jersey, but I experienced a lot of happiness there.
And now it sits empty, awaiting demolition. And I’m just feeling kind of nostalgic.
For me, it’s just one more reminder not to get too attached to special places. Because sooner or later, they will be gone. Though they’re still young, my kids are already feeling the sting of this reality: Obscenely large cones of Welsh Farms ice cream at the Milk Barn? Not anymore. An afternoon of browsing at Border’s? Sorry. Burgers and air hockey at Fuddrucker’s? Not around here. Just when they start to count on a place, The Man decides to shut it down. And they don’t like it.
So I’m hoping my kids, and I, are getting wiser from this: learning the art of holding loosely to the special places in our lives. Our home…our vacation destinations…our cherished restaurants and hangouts…they’re all gifts meant to be gratefully enjoyed, but not idolized; valued, but not worshiped.
Ultimately, this is a spiritual thing for me. Like Abraham, who was “longing for a better country—a heavenly one,” I believe that even the greatest places in this world are just dim previews of what awaits. Rather than an ethereal future of harp-playing in the clouds, my faith offers a hope that’s defined by a physical place—a redeemed heaven and earth, where the beauty of a garden merges with the community of a city. This is The Place—the permanent Place—that all the temporary places point to.
Nostalgia is okay in small doses. But I so don’t want to grow into the crotchety guy who’s stuck in the past. And I’m thankful that my faith keeps me pointed toward the future. So goodbye, Izod Center! You gave me some memorable days…but my best days are ahead.