I’ve just finished moving into my new parish assignment, St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill . One of the things you have to learn quickly when living in a new situation with several people is how to move in close quarters. When three priests are preparing their lunches at the same time in a small kitchen there can be a lot of bumping into each other until you get used to each others movements, foibles etc. The learning curve is necessarily quick and steep because, after all, you love the people you’re living with and want things to go harmoniously. Reaching for the mustard at the same time quickly turns into “No, please you go first.” until sharing space becomes second nature.
I observed some of the same dynamic at work in Le Pain Quotidien (7th and Penn., SE) yesterday. I’m sure the managers of the chain designed the chairs to be tiny so as to fit LOTS of them into a small space for greater profit… but the sociological result is people eating in close quarters. It’s really a microcosm for all of Washington. At restaurants, in the metro, park spaces, you name it, we all live near each other. The awkward, “No, please you go first” develops into a second nature rules (e.g. On escalators Stand on the RIGHT!! Walk on the LEFT). But the beautiful thing about it all is that at the root of our customs and expectations is a desire to leave harmoniously together.
If you’re going to live together as a community, there’s really no other game in town. Speaking about a conflict in the early Christian community, Pope St. Clement put it this way:
“We should pray then that we may be granted forgiveness for our sins and for whatever we may have done when led astray by our adversary’s servants. And as for those who were the leaders of the schism and the sedition, they too should look to the common hope. For those who live in pious fear and in love are willing to endure torment rather than have their neighbor suffer…for it is better for a man to confess his sins than to harden his heart.”
Something to think about as we start another day!