Al Fresco – Pastor’s Reflection
For a decade now New York City has given me the gift of walking. Since our parish merger in 2015 my range has shrunk but my constancy has risen. Walking serves me as exercise and as a blessed time of solitude and recollection: the swifter my pace the more I savor interior gifts. Park Avenue and Third Avenue have broad sidewalks and afford me the straightaway I crave. By contrast the many “look-in-able” windows of narrow Lexington slow everyone down, deprive me of momentum, and send me frustration in its stead. If I look to cover a distance I will often go a block out of the way to avoid Lex.
Now that is all changed and the sidewalks of Lexington have become my arrondissement of encouragement. Byways that slowed me down now bring me to a halt and I give in. Decked with umbrellas and crisp, white linen they seduce me into a seat and soon I tuck into a plate of pasta washed down with something tall and cool. Thus parked I re-connect with a dormant part of myself. How fine to see diners and walkers greet each other. An owner setting up tables looks up and asks after a Friar. I see a waiter I know and seek an update on all his colleagues. Everyone wants to know how everyone else came through it all.
Familiar tastes and sounds make me at home, even though home never used to include staff in face masks and empty spaces in the oddest places. Determination and ingenuity cover the gap and make it work. Restaurateurs reach to cooking and clients in any way they can, and their zeal tells me not only about economy but about vocation. Yes, they are people of business, but they are also people of art, impelled by their medium to produce. Adapting and innovating have put new texture into their oeuvre.
All of a sudden somebody creates a sidewalk cafe and a pounded and pocked piece of concrete ends up the seedbed of a renaissance. Yes, proprietors are driven by need and impelled by creative juices, but they are also rebuilding society. Their energies foster that part of the social fabric they can reach out and touch. What is in a cocktail, but the power to lure two people out of their apartments into the safe place where they reconnect? What is in a plate of pasta but the wholesalers with a new order? What is in a cheeseburger plate but three people called out of furlough back into work?
If we were just lifting dust cloths and resuming a routine that would give quiet satisfaction. But when we see ancient human drives surging through new channels we should sit up, take notice, and find encouragement. Places that have been “locals” for decades reinvent themselves and help us have life together in the midst of a pandemic. The proprietors of our avenues grasp the need to invest in real places in real time, so that if life must flow through narrow veins, it does so with the force of creativity and dedication.
Quickening neighborhoods figure everywhere in the history of our city. Immigration swells them, business sets them bustling, and fashion puts them on the map. No matter what sparks them, each becomes five blocks of a hearth around which all kinds of urban dwellers discover they are known even as they come to know.
It brings no small satisfaction to think that even as a parish like ours draws on the congregation of urban souls, it also contributes diversity, staying power, and refuge.
Even before Covid we saw signs that neighborhoods were under pressure from skyward rents and burgeoning e-commerce, perhaps our brave new cafes give a sign of the shape they will assume in a post-corona world. Certainly the tables in the parking lane tell the story that in the biggest of cities we need a village.
If we take a seat in our new village square I hope we remember the intrepid people who see to our needs and wants. The undying spirit of New York abides in them as in no one else.
Published in our bulletin July 26, 2020