America is big on halls of fame. Walls and walks of fame, too. But we’re missing one hall, and it’s more important than all the others combined. Yet we’ll never build it—it would honor too many people and so be way too costly. But these folks should be acknowledged.
By way of explanation, I just spent a week with three friends on a road trip from Boston to Cleveland visiting several sports halls of fame. We started in Boston where we took in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. The next day we arrived at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. I loved shooting hoops on their court, and I can say scoring two on a peach basket isn’t easy. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York was terrific. We enjoyed the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canistota, New York—small but interesting. Then it was off to Cleveland for Indians’ baseball at beautiful Progressive Field, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton and, for good measure, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame fifteen minutes’ walk from our hotel. Fabulous!
We got a good taste of how this nation reveres athletes and rockers. And there’s nothing wrong with that—to a point. In truth, many hall inductees’ personal lives don’t measure up to their professional feats. So while gambling may keep Pete Rose out of Cooperstown and juicing steroids eliminate the entry of some home run record setters and power pitchers, abuse of other drugs and alcohol along with rap sheets generally don’t bar the door. Halls of fame don’t celebrate attaining the pinnacle of human values. But let’s not sell ourselves short.
It’s important that we also honor ordinary Americans involved with family, jobs and community while upholding the law: The Unsung Heroes Hall of Fame. And we don’t need an expensive building and handsome plaques to do it. A little acknowledgment would do it.
I saw some of those heroes on my trip. They looked like baggage handlers and flight attendants, reception clerks and housekeeping staff, ticket takers and ushers, wait staff and cashiers. These ordinary people were extraordinarily friendly, helpful and patient. They worked hard, and they cared.
I was particularly impressed by how the folks in Cleveland are trying to restore their city. Cleveland lost ten percent of its population in the last decade. Its 1940 population of 878,000 dwindled to 433,000 in 2008. Yet Cleveland not only built new baseball and football stadiums (which of course draw money from the suburbs) but also the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame designed by famed architect I.M. Pei. I saw new life in the old Warehouse District, too, with condos and apartments served by a number of really good restaurants. And the city also serves as home to the notable Cleveland Clinic.
Yes, Cleveland has a long way to go as America’s industrial heartland attempts to reinvent itself. But residents will tell you, “Cleveland rocks!” What really rocks is that they still give a damn. America’s problems are severe. There’s no way around that. But we live among millions of Hall of Famers giving it their best shot and determined to both adapt and succeed. Let’s treat each other—and this missive goes double for Washington—with the respect we all deserve.
For all of you observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—may 5772 bring you health, prosperity and shalom—peace.
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