During our last snowfall… and I do hope it was our LAST snowfall, I stayed with brother-priests for my day off. Their rectory backs up on something quintessentially urban… an alleyway. At first blush so what; most homes in downtown DC backup on an alleyway, but there’s more here than meets the eye. Alleys are, in the first place – to be sure – places of utility. They’re built so that city residents have access to parking, and so that garbage trucks, repair crews and other day-to-day workers can access homes without blocking street traffic. Reading in the morning light of my third-floor urban aerie, I noticed another side to alleyways: they’re places of great social interaction!
If a front garden is the outdoor drawing room of a townhouse, the back yard is the den where Washingtonians really let their hair down. How interesting to watch a retired resident thoughtfully sipping hot coffee on a chill morning. Small children in another yard pelt each other with snowballs. In still other precincts young adults with the world on their shoulders clear off cars for a day’s work. Taking out the trash, homeowners enjoy a shared moment, talking over everything and nothing all at once. An old woman receives groceries from a helpful neighbor… And everyone engages in a cautious industrial waltz backing cars in and out of their garages, carefully giving way to one another, venturing out for another day contra mundum. They alleyway is also, in a certain sense, a place of safety, “Yes… I’ve made it through Washington Circle alive once again!” They’re the entry ways to that special reality called HOME.
Speaking about evangelization and urban life, Pope Francis has this to say in Evangelium Gaudium,
“God’s presence accompanies the sincere efforts of individuals and groups to find encouragement and meaning in their lives. He dwells among them, fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice. This presence must not be contrived, but found, uncovered.”
If this isn’t what I saw going on in a DC alleyway last week, I don’t know what is.