I wrote the following last week, before water and debris filled this city now struggling to breathe. I still hear it, though. It's alive. It's underwater and soggy, but it's alive.
The weather is perfect - like Southern California perfect - so I put my daughter in the sling and walk out onto our front porch. The sun is setting behind the trees and since it won't be in her eyes, we go all the way out to the sidewalk and just listen.
A CRJ flies overhead with an American tail. A few minutes later it's followed by a Southwest jet and then another. This time of day the flight patterns are just above our house and the roar of the engines can be heard as the planes bank and head some place a few hours from here.
Somewhere north of us we hear a siren. It's a police car. When I was a kid in church our Sunday school teacher told us to say a prayer whenever we heard a siren. I'm not sure why. Maybe we're supposed to pray that someone doesn't die. That seems like a good enough prayer, but I don't whisper one tonight.
Cars and trucks rush by on our street. People are leaving work and heading home to their own kids and families and dinner tables. The sounds of engines get closer and then farther as they pass by us.
My daughter isn't quite four months old, so lots of sounds are new, and she now turns her head when she hears something that piques her interest. And tonight we're outside listening to the city.
At 7:00, the carillon plays in the park at the end of our street and we hear the faint sounds of big bells making their way to us, telling us what time it is. The kids three houses down hear it too, but only pause momentarily from their game of tag. The little girl - she's no older than 18 months - waddles down the sidewalk a few houses before her dad chases after her and picks her up. She squeals when he does. The bricks her tiny feet walk on are older than anyone she's ever met.
Another siren. Another plane. Another car. Then, a dog barks. And then another.
We see a dump truck head west on the cross street at the end of our block. Next door they have the window open and we hear a two-month-old cry because he's hungry or wet or cold or lonely. When only six feet separate you from a neighbor, you hear a lot.
Once, about a year ago, I stayed with a friend who lived 30 miles from everything. As I lay in bed, I couldn't make sense of the silence. I'm a city guy. Give me concrete and steel over sand and waves. I need to hear the city breathe, to hear children and dogs and cars so close that I know everything's okay. Just like I still check in on my daughter when I wake up before she does, when it's 5 AM and everyone in my house is asleep but here I am, tiptoeing to her crib to listen in on her lungs working. I check to make sure she's okay, that I can hear her breathe. In and out. In and out.
Plane and truck. Siren and cry. Footsteps and dump truck. Bells and car alarm. The city is alive. And we are part of it.
"This is the city," I whisper to my daughter, now sleeping and sucking on her pacifier. "You live here. You're a part of this." Her slow, steady breathing and her rhythmic sucking add to the inhale and exhale of this place I call home.