A Fish Market Easter Revelation
Normally the 71st street Fish Market runs with astonishing efficiency, which has been the case in all the years I’ve come here. My dad would bring me here on Saturday mornings as a child. They’ve been here a long time. Not too many community gathering spots like this still exist.
I still make the trek here because I noticed that in a relatively small space surrounded by a virtual aquarium of fish and sea creatures of every description in buckets of ice, the place never smells like fish. At least not the odor I smell when I walk by the seafood counter at my neighborhood high end grocer. The one they nickname “Whole Check”. But mostly I come for the people.
The tickets have gotten confused somehow, and my number keeps getting missed. One man yells “73”. Another yells “21”. Confusion reigns. But somehow confusion never descends into chaos. I don’t mind. In fact, I am relishing the moment to absorb the vibes…the bustle of men and women in white smocks yelling out seemingly random numbers and good-natured banter with the customers. The wet smack of fish being piled unto weighing scales. The percussion of knives slicing catfish and the moan of machines shaving scales off salmon. But mostly, the people.
The beautiful frowning round woman in head scarf whose frown inverts to bright smile when a fish doctor says “Don’t be mad pretty lady. I got you. What you want?”. The cacophony of voices behind the counter issuing commands and fussing at each other, yet somehow keeping it moving. The pretty lady in large round afro wondering aloud: “Damn…everybody decided to be hungry at the same time?”. The dapper twenty-something who looks like he stopped by on way to the Lyric Opera. Which causes my mind to wonder if they allow you to bring fish into the Lyric Opera. The stout, rich-dark brother leaning on a crutch holding up his ticket and complaining. The thirty something man in wild locks laughing with his girl as they survey the crab legs. The gray haired grey skinned elder instructing the fish doctor how to slice her five whole catfish into steaks.
Easter, or Resurrection Sunday as it’s called at my church, is here. Most rote religious ceremonies leave me cold. It seems to me as I stand amid this organic humanity that the loftiness attached to the “high holidays” misses the point. It’s not a high holiday for me. It’s a radical way of seeing what I see in my people even here in the messy bustle, this diaspora of every hue. Every problem in the human experience is present here; so is every virtue. Every human sin is represented here; so is every human value.
My understanding of Love has distilled to a potent simplicity over the years. Love: everybody working shit out for the good of everybody. I see the multiplication of the fish and loaves in this rugged little market. The organic courtesies being offered as we negotiate this small space. The security of being in a safe space because there is communal agreement to make it so. I think my man Jesus would hang out in a space like this…perhaps he would bring his crew to fish for men and women.
I decide to celebrate my Resurrection Day here and now where I stand. I affirm the value of God’s creativity in every one of these my brothers and sisters. Nothing can separate them from God’s Love; nothing shall separate me from them. I’ve decided to hold the meaning of the blood, the cross, the empty tomb, the women evangelists proclaiming, “He is risen!” to skeptical disciples in hiding, firmly in my heart right here amongst the Jesus people. I keep it simple, the simplicity of truth, where I can live it in this moment with the fierce urgency of radical compassion. I may or may not be willing to go to the cross for these folks. But I know they are worthy. The beauty, the ugliness, the honor, the madness, the laughter, the rage, the vivid humanity of my people, God’s people: they are worthy. For God so loved them that he gave his son…
Jah, give eyes me to see your Fish Market folk through your Love.
I was blind. Thank you for vision.