7.18.2011

City of Neighborhoods


Yesterday I took the kids to a birthday party in Mt. Airy. Between just missing our bus to the train station and mistiming how much time it would take to get to the train station loading area, we just missed our train. This is normally problematic on Sundays, since the trains only run once an hour. But my friends live between two train stations, so we waited twenty minutes and grabbed the alternate line, and I braced for the longer walk once we arrived in Mt. Airy (10 minutes instead of 2 minutes).

Alas, things complicated a little more, as it was announced that due to construction, the train we were boarding was only going to Wayne Junction and shuttling from there. This would further delay us. Just missing our original train was becoming more costly.

I hate waiting, and I hate being late. In times like this, I find it very hard not to stew on what could have been. Time is frustrating like that, in that you can't turn it back. So I started to stew.

But I have learned to take a breath and ask God to redeem the time, and to be open to maybe He has something different for me than my plans, even if I was the one who butchered them.

Sure enough, there were two silver linings to our unexpected detour. First, I randomly bumped into a former student of mine, so it was nice to see him and hopefully open the door to catching up more in the near future.

Second, because we were shuttling via bus to all of the train stops, we meandered our way to Mt. Airy via city streets, instead of dedicated rail space. Rail space doesn't cut right through neighborhoods, but is sequestered away by trees and space. Buses, in contrast, go right through neighborhoods, and so I was treated to a mini-tour of the neighborhoods between Wayne Junction and Mt. Airy.

As someone who spends almost all of his life either in University City or Center City, I am bound by the numbered streets running north-south and the tree streets (Chestnut, Walnut, Locust, Spruce, Pine) running east-west. It's a familiar grid, and when I deviate from it, I often get hopelessly lost.

But here I was not driving but being driven. And so I could take in the sights and street names with wonder and not with fear of missing a turn. I thought about how varied are the blocks that make up Philadelphia, about how every block had its characters and its stories, how many similarities and differences there were as we passed by so many types of places.

Our stop came soon enough, and the touring continued. While much of what we had passed by bus was pretty run down, now we were in a pretty nice part of town. Even my two little kids could tell things were different from our inner city neighborhood; in my kids' words, the houses were "fancier," "further from the street," and "more spread out."

Rather than a faster train and a shorter walk, in other words, we got more time to soak in this city of neighborhoods, and in particular parts of it we don't know very well. And so it wasn't hard to let go of mistiming our travels. God had better ideas for how we were to spend the afternoon.

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