It was a large square brick building painted grey, about six stories high. It used to be some sort of a manufacturing company, at least that is what I gathered from the remnants of the painted sign on the facade. The days for productivity for this building are over, at least that is what I gathered from the boards over all of the windows, or at least where the windows used to be.
I wondered what was inside this old building. Was it completely empty, or where there still remnants of its previous life? Was there still equipment that could tell stories about how materials were transformed into something useful?
Living in a hard-hit rust-belt city, I have learned a new vocabulary. The vocabulary of “used to be”. This used to be a factory. That used to be a warehouse. Those used to be railroad tracks. There used to be jobs. We used to have hope.
The language of “used to be” is the language of no longer. It is the language of the past, it is the language without much of a future.
People also use this language about themselves. I used to have a job. I used to have a home. I used to have a family. I used to have a future. It is language of despair. Of things gone wrong.
I wonder exactly what this building used to be, and who used to be there.
I continued walking by many other used-to-be’s. This looked like it used to be a beautiful house. That looks like is used to be a corner store.
I walked down the next block and I saw what I thought were used-to-be’s but as I came closer, I saw that they are the “are-nows” — things which used to be something useful and have been transformed into something else useful. I stopped and looked at the new-found sight. I saw was used to be a tannery complex, but is now refurbished space for offices, social service agencies, and commercial space. All of this just a few blocks down from a sea of used-to-be’s.
I think about myself, and I see a lot of used-to-be. It’s hard to identify as a used-to-be. It cuts deep into one’s soul as one reflects on what and who one used to be, but is no longer. It is a great sense of loss, it involves grief, and it can involve a bleak future. Many days I feel like I am running in a hamster wheel forced to watch a never ending film of all that I used to be.
I begin to wonder if perhaps the used-to-be’s are more than just this. Perhaps they are actually “could-be’s.” Those things which used to be something but are simply waiting to be transformed into something else useful.
This is why I identify as a Christian. When I read scripture, I hear one message over and over: God telling the used-to-be’s that they are actually the could-be’s and that one day they will be the are-nows.