We walk the cracked sidewalks that stumble beside the city streets. We talk about life and how it moved before we took on these things that now anchor us to such shallow waters. We cross one street then another and the traffic waits, the lights blink, the city breathes in the fall air. Exhales. It is the scream of a siren or the distant sound of a baby, crying at first through the open window, then complaining, then asleep.
They walk slower there, where the crumbling houses stare out at cars resting against forgotten curbs. I watch the teenagers chase each other down the street and I wonder where they will run, where they will find even one misplaced strand of hope. I nod to the old folks sagging in their well-used lawn chairs propped on narrow porches. They sit up straighter and smile and they shout at other people passing by, friends and enemies alike, they call to them and they raise their hands, those same hands doling out blessings and curses.
They bless us with those old hands, crossed by a thousand wrinkles, held together by the stitches of so many journeys. They pierce us with their smiles, their unexpected gentleness. They are kind to us, for no good reason.
We sit in the restaurant and silverware clinks against the dishes and the glasses of ice water sweat while people walk by outside, people with dead eyes and straight backs. The server smiles and it is the same food we ate in London, the same delicious food we ate when we steered the world without any anchors snagging the ocean floor, when we thought our dreams would be enough. In those long ago days we thought life would be easy, that we were the king and queen and all was for the taking.
Remember when we sat in that restaurant just off Hyde Park? Remember how the train lulled us to sleep when we vanished into the darkness outside the city?
Whenever we leave the city I feel a tug, the same tug I feel when one of my children grabs on to a loose thread, the same unraveling. It is too easy for me to drive away from people. It is too easy for me to leave. When the streetlights turn into stars and the curb somehow gives way to banks that line corn-stubble fields, a great sense of regret and emptiness and joy fills me. Somehow all three at once.
I trade the city for the quiet and I wonder, Where is God? I think about a recent trip, a flight that took me halfway across the country. I think about the hundred cities I flew over, their illuminated streets like the web of a shattered windshield.
Have you ever felt God at 30,000 feet while flying east, the sun setting behind you? Have you ever descended into a city at that precise moment when the streetlights begin to flicker on? Have you ever approached a runway over a river tinted silver by the moonlight, knowing that if you could see straight ahead you would see the skyline of Philadelphia, like some distant, well-ordered galaxy?
Have you ever thought, Where is God, if not here, among us?