After I wrote a post two weeks ago on traveling graces, I realized that I had more to say on my recent travels. Today’s post reflects on some other interesting noticing’s from my recent trip.
On the way south to Florida and again on the way home, I stopped in Florence SC. We stay at a Hyatt Place hotel in downtown Florence where the streets are brick-paved and there are a lot of newly renovated stores and restaurants. Having worked in neighborhood development, I am suspicious of brick sidewalks and whether they are hiding an economy that doesn’t work. City governments often turn to brick sidewalks as part of an effort to revitalize a downtown or neighborhood commercial district. I don’t know enough about Florence to know how deep the improved economy goes and how widely it is distributed throughout the city.
A little poking around while there and on the Internet revealed some interesting observations. After a nine-hour drive on the return from Miami Beach on Sunday, my legs needed a little stretching. That early evening stroll around downtown Florence gave me two important data points. First, in looking for a restaurant for dinner, I wandered into a jumping jazz club. There was no room at the bar, no tables available. A Black Jazz band with a horn, a couple of trumpets, a sax, and a drum was jamming. The crowd, all African-American, was loving it. As the only white person there and finding no easy place to stand or sit to get some food., I had to quickly size up my options. I enjoyed the music for a few minutes and moved on in my search for dinner. And yes, there was some discomfort being the only white there.
My next stop was a small courtyard near the jazz club with a sculpture of a well-known Black American artist born in 1901 in Florence, William H. Johnson. I say well-known because that is what everything I read about him says. Raised in poverty in Florence, he moved to NY when 17 to study art. Working many odd jobs, he supported himself in completing studies at the National Academy of Design. In the 1920’s he moved to Paris and lived and practiced his art in Europe. He eventually came home to New York. Johnson is known for how he represented the African-American traditions and experiences. His work is recognized for its “stunning, eloquent folk-art simplicity.”
When I saw that he died in Central Islip on Long Island I assumed he had been an acclaimed and financially successful artist. To the contrary, even though over a thousand of Johnson’s paintings are in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, he spent the last 23 years of his life impoverished and living in a mental hospital there. Johnson’s story reminds me again that learning Black History is an ongoing, everyday opportunity.
I’ll leave you with two other tender moments from my trip home. Sunday morning I wanted to get out of Miami Beach early to miss some south Florida traffic. So I decided to worry about breakfast a little later. I also had a fantasy that I might be able to stop and have one more ocean swim before I got too far north. Despite my bathing suit under my pants, the 56-degree morning made that not likely.
So, I decided to stop for breakfast in New Smyrna Beach, known as the shark capital of the east coast. After cruising the main highway and not finding a restaurant, I headed to a Publix grocery store and asked about hot breakfasts there. “Nope”, a pleasant young man told me. He advised going to the A. M. Café 200 yards north in the shopping center. Because he was concerned it might be too crowded, he led me to the restaurant and went in with me to make sure I could eat there, while mentioning other nearby restaurants. I became aware as he kindly guided me that he was a young man with an intellectual disability. I was deeply touched by his kindness to me and thought about how impatient I often am, with people who are challenged in any way… and even with those who are not. It was indeed a teachable moment.
The final stop was at a Benedictine monastery near Charlotte NC where Geraldine’s cousin, Brother Edward, is the guest master. This means he welcomes all guests and makes it comfortable for them to participate with the monks in daily prayers and meals. While there were many blessings with my time visiting there, what made the biggest impression was how the monks deliberately paused in between each verse of a psalm or prayer. They made space to listen for God’s message and to breathe and be present. This conscious pause is such a contrast to my let’s hurry and get everything done including prayers. It made a lasting impression.
As I have aged, the importance of spaciousness, going slow and pausing and noticing has become an important aspiration in my spiritual life and in relationships with others. The monks and their way of praying reinforced that desire.
Traveling is indeed good for the soul and another gift not equally available to the less privileged in our communities.