And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
—Seamus Heaney, Scaffolding (as reported in the MTA’s Poetry in Motion series)
Thoughts from one morning, walking back from Hell’s Kitchen to my own little corner of the world, passing St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and deciding to stop inside, because I am bleary from sleeping on a couch, a bit of hangover from sadness, and just one glass of wine putting me to sleep:
The neon sign is very neon this morning.
It’s the sign that says “Sin Will Find You Out” written on a neon cross, hanging from a church (?) on John’s street. I never find it disturbing. I never thought to find it disturbing until now as I write down how it has never caused me pause. Why have I never blinked twice at that neon sign, hanging in John’s street, just a few doors down from the site of Pork Bun Heaven?
I am very disturbed by sin. I am very disturbed by sin when it is inside my heart, or it rears up in ugly permanence in a selfish action I do. But I do not think I am disturbed by sin written in neon letters.
Perhaps I ought to be. Perhaps I ought to attend to prophets, even ones in neon.
But I do not look twice at it. I feel like I have waken up from a deep sleep. I feel like I have been half-awake for a very long time. I am still tired with that drowsiness.
The rug has been pulled out from under me, and now I have to re-assemble the pieces. How do I begin to remember who I was before?
I am walking to the 6 train, so St. Patrick’s Cathedral rises in front of me. I stare up at her beautiful, white-washed stone steeples. I remember for how much of her existence, and my existence in her, she was covered in scaffolding.
But now, here she is. Bright as a snowy mountain, with her Gothic peaks. I decide to go inside.
I walk inside as Mass is ending, I think. I wander to the back, up the familiar marble steps—familiar from a lifetime ago—and to the lady chapel. The chapel is still thick with the texture of incense in the air.
I kneel, and I discover a self of mine I left there, kneeling. I meet her again, here in St. Patrick’s lady chapel. Or am I meeting the Cathedral herself?
Whoever it is I am meeting, she is well-met. There is a word for this: anastomosis, a coming-together of two separate strands that were originally part of a singular path.
Even places can be people. They can be figures that factor into our story and loom large in our lives. Places can be people that we know and love, that remind us of what it is to be our full selves.
And people can be places. People can be safe havens we retreat to in the storm, return to, root ourselves in, make our homes within.
It is important to return to what makes us feel most ourselves, to seek out those people that are truly life-giving and truly full of God, that reflect God to us.
And it is important to return to the places who are people to us. Who people us. Who hold ourselves inside of them.
It is really awe-striking to imagine the number of stories that are in the world. It’s almost impossible to imagine, really. How do we begin to account for all of them, and imagine them, when all we have to go off of is our own?
Perhaps our own is enough. Perhaps our own story is a complicated enough narrative, we can begin to imagine all the complex journeys of our fellow pilgrims. Because we meet them, here. In the places where we are made, too. Perhaps because our own story is made of places, it contains the stories of others, necessarily—the others who have also prayed and prophesied and shared their pizza here.
At the appointed moment, I take a breath, and pray. The multiplicity of possibilities contained in that prayer are dazzling.
There are so many ways this story can go.
Nestled inside this safe haven, this Cathedral that is also a friend, I feel as bright and as fresh as she. I, too, have shed my scaffolding. We stand, naked and dazzling, together in the city.
Even places can be people.