I thought, I have time to take a look around town before my meetings in the morning.
The dropping dusk light makes long, ominous shadows of the unfamiliar city. On the corner is an older homeless man leaning over a shopping cart. Three younger men are standing outside a thrift store, talking loudly –to me it sounds like arguing. A woman is pulling a child roughly by the arm to cross against the light and for a moment it seems like none of the drivers will stop for them. It is a town that has “fallen on hard times”. Grand houses are empty. Half the poles are vintage ornate, the other half leaning wooden poles. I wonder if it is possible to power wash a whole city.
By the time I park the car, I am beginning to think I should turn around and go back to the well-lit, strip-mall safety of my hotel. And if I was alone, I probably would. But my daughter, a toddler, is in the back pleading for the opportunity to get out of her car seat and stretch her legs. So, I’ve committed to this adventure. There is a used bookstore on the corner. In the children’s section there is a child who is probably 3 years older than my daughter. I smile at him hoping for a playmate. Instead he pushes my daughter off a chair. I redirect her attention to a wooden activity center which he promptly grabs away from us. His mother looks up and then away. Each time I take a book from the shelf, read the first page or two, he takes it. My frustrated daughter is crying and I think I might too.
The next morning, I awake to snow. Exiting the highway, I find myself back in the tight blocks of downtown. It is as unfamiliar as it was last night, but the flurrying snow settles like frosting on the trim of buildings, over cars, and even on my own eyelashes. At Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren, three different people smile and point me towards the front door.
A man in a paint splattered sweatshirt, gives me a ticket, You get a meal with this.
Musicians are warming up for worship.
A woman, with a little girl of her own, says, There is a children’s room.
Her child smiles at my daughter, who smiles back and waves. The sanctuary is warm and the crisp morning light filters through the windows. People are easy with one another and with me. That they have never seen me before does not give anyone pause. I am welcomed without fanfare or expectation. We are all equal in our need to be in this holy place. I am suddenly humbled, realizing that I have come to this place from my own “hard times” –that I am weary and hungry too. Mostly, I am too busy to admit my urgent needs, my grimy moments, and my run-down places. As the praise hymn starts, my heart rises with the voices around me, exalted with hope and faith. The scales have fallen from my eyes: The morning, the people around me, and this place are splendidly, wonderfully made.