For historians, a decade is the temporal equivalent of a mosaic. Several — countless? — independent pieces that, together, compose a larger, unified image. The image may not be all that clear, mind you, but it's a picture our minds can retain. The 1970s — with Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War — spelled out the end of American innocence. The 1980s — led by Ronald Reagan and Bill Gates — made greed seem good (if only temporarily). And the 1990s — a federal budget surplus and dot-coms! — made us believe we Americans may not be innocent anymore, but we'd be bathing in cash as long as the sun continued to rise in the east.
Then came the current decade, one we'll bid adieu come December 31st. Were the attacks of September 11, 2001, not enough to permanently scar the mosaic of "the Aughts," Hurricane Katrina and the still-breathing Great Recession will make this century's opening decade a model for what mankind must overcome. A decade that leaves its successor with "room for improvement," as my mom would say.
The last decade in Memphis has changed the city as much as any before it. Just consider the games we cheer. On January 1, 2000, AutoZone Park had yet to open its gates downtown. John Calipari was merely an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers. And led by Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the Grizzlies were on their way to a 23-win season . . . in Vancouver. The thought of a heavyweight championship bout being held in Memphis would have delivered the kind of scoffs we Memphians tend to reserve for discussion of city-county consolidation. Then on June 8, 2002, Lennox Lewis knocked Mike Tyson on his ass in The Pyramid. (Remember when that building actually held people?)
Old troubles continued to haunt the Bluff City over the last 10 years. Major decisions — be they in matters of government, law enforcement, education, or business — cannot be made without race playing a role. Poverty claws and gnaws at this community in ways generations of well-meaning philanthropists and activists haven't been able to suppress. And the much-discussed "brain drain" that costs Memphis its brightest young minds simply has to be quelled for the city to become anything more than a destination for Elvis fans and North America's distribution center. (Bless the King and FedEx, but let's extend our reach, Memphis.)
In some respects a "decade" as we define it is too tidy. Starting the right kind of change — in one's life, neighborhood, or city — in a year that ends in, say, 4 is every bit as meaningful as such impact within the convenient 10-year chapters (mosaics!) upon which those historians like to reflect. But why not consider the arrival of two new numbers on our calendar the opportunity for resolution that goes beyond the next 365 days?
What will life in Memphis be like on December 31, 2019? Let's hope the honorable A C Wharton is not still mayor. (If Wharton makes the kind of impact his credentials suggest he will, his tenure at City Hall will be defined less by its longevity than by the differences we can measure ten years from now.) Let's hope The Pyramid is more than skyline decor, whether that means a retail mega-center or a multipurpose venue where Memphians can stimulate mind and body. Let's hope the Mid-South Fairgrounds rises from the dead (whether or not the University of Memphis continues to play football there). And sure, while we're at it, let's hope the Memphis Grizzlies have won a playoff game by December 31, 2019.
Most importantly, let's hope the decade ahead will come to be remembered — by our children and grandchildren — as a decade when the mosaic began to blend. A time when the independent pieces — regardless of their color, origin, or monetary worth — morphed into a cohesive artistic unit, one where each of those differences enhanced this city's growth. Diversity is good.
If we're fortunate, we get to greet six or seven decades. That's not many occasions to reflect — and gaze — beyond our standard 12-month cycles of living. These opportunities to reboot our psyche (if nothing else) should be treated as the rarity they are. Before you know it, we'll have a new century on our hands.