Well, Look At Us

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Every single day in my hometown, and without much incident, close to a million people get out of their beds, bathe, eat something and get themselves to work, or school, or somewhere else they believe to be worth getting to.

Some climb, (granted, with fingers crossed, perhaps), onto our city’s public transit system, called MUNI, or the regional transit system, called BART, or onto AMTRAK, or Caltrain, or into employer-provided buses, or their own cars, or bikes, or even walk; again, mostly without incident, to speak of. Now, MUNI can be insanely crowded, late and filthy. By all rights, there could be riots on the rails every day about some offense or other but there are just not. Mostly, my fellow San Franciscans and I get on, get off and get about our business.

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We go to workplaces and schools and studios and stores to buy food – or maybe eat out with our friends and families on Sunday nights, or special occasions. We’re productive, hardworking people, just like most people in most cities are, trying to do well by ourselves, our families and succeeding generations.

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In my hometown, we residents and our families originally come from places all over the globe – China, Russia, Italy, England, Cameroon, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Japan, Afghanistan, Vietnam and even Greece, like my family did. We’re Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, Sikhs, Muslims and Druids. And, miracle of miracles, there’s no faith-based violence to speak of – not even much evidenced expression of faith-based hatred, anger or enmity. And this isn’t because there’s no overt expression of religious belief or practice – there are more places of worship in San Francisco than bars (If you know anything about this city, you know that is a significant statistic.) – as some would have you believe.

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And we’re people of all genders and sexual orientations and identities. And – witness any public gathering – widely diverse aesthetics as well.

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This city – any large and diverse city – only works because we collectively agree to accept, appreciate, and even celebrate the diversity in which we live and pretty much let other people get on with their own lives as they themselves see fit.

(Go in peace, my brother.)

The fact that we try, day in and day out, is both extraordinary and startlingly common to all modern cities of any scale.  The fact that it works and has worked here for over 150 years, without widespread insanity and violence, day in and day out, is nothing short of absolutely miraculous.

There’s a lesson in this, for those who care to hear it.

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Overpass Prayers

The other day, a little after lunchtime, I happened to stop by the interstate near my house, just to make a couple of phone calls and send off a few emails. As usual, traffic was heavy, loud and fast. It was all I could do to concentrate for all the engine noise and honking.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man with a yoga mat rolled under his arm walking down the grassy strip that outlined the freeway off ramp. He went down a ways then stopped abruptly. He unrolled his mat and turned to face the noisy traffic below.

Then, and I recognized the characteristic movements at once, he began to pray. He was an observant Muslim and it was time for the daily Zuhr prayer. He had oriented himself more or less facing east, interstate traffic be damned.

I watched until he concluded, rolled his mat, walked back up the ramp and out of my view.  Seeing him creating his own sacred space in the midst of our society’s secular noise reminded me very much of the many business-suited people I’d see walking the labyrinth at lunch hour when I was on the staff of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral.

No matter which particular traditions of practice we follow, if any at all, it would be a much different (i.e., better) world if we all set a few moments aside in our busy, hectic and noisy days for prayer, meditation, or even just conscious self-reflection.