Sabbath in the City
Michael C. McCarthy, S.J., '87 M.Div. '97
The only way to know a city is on foot.
As a native San Franciscan, I have often been asked to give tours to visitors. When I taught first-quarter undergraduates at Santa Clara, they frequently wanted me to show them the city. I agreed so long as they were willing to do a lot of walking. It always amused me when many would show up at CalTrain on a Saturday morning in October wearing flip-flops, which would inevitably cause them pain as we hiked miles up and down the hills.
So when summer came to New York, I was eager to learn about my new city. After all, I had arrived on a brutally cold January night and immediately started a new job at Fordham University. In June the pace slackens mercifully, so the last few weekends I spent walking the streets of New York.
Just the other day, I walked the long narrow strip of parkway along the Hudson River, from the Bronx to Harlem, cutting through Columbia University and Central Park, through Midtown to Grand Central Terminal. After 12 miles I pooped out, so took the train back to Fordham. In a few days I will ride back to Grand Central and walk down the southern half of Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, and then the Staten Island Ferry around the Statue of Liberty.
what I love is the leisure inherent in a day of walking and the freedom to see what we otherwise would miss
Of course, all these are worthy tourist sites, but what I love is the leisure inherent in a day of walking and the freedom to see what we otherwise would miss. The journey (it is sometimes said) is more important than the destination. I’m not sure I believe that is always true: I spend so much of my time managing outcomes that I consider very important. But we need days where outcomes are not as important. People of old call this day “Sabbath.”
You begin to see diversity, not as some academic ideal, but as something you are a part of . . . and indeed love.
During a Sabbath in the City, when the opportunity presents itself, I will sit on a bench or linger in a garden or stop in a church or talk about business to the Dominican man who sells me cold Gatorade. You begin to notice important things: the number of immigrant men who are teaching their kids to play baseball, the number of women setting up princess parties for their daughters, and the way families with limited means organize their time together in public places. You begin to see diversity, not as some academic ideal, but as something you are a part of . . . and indeed love. And you experience a kind of contemplative joy in the variegated rhythm of life on the streets, which also includes the painful awareness of poverty and the constant possibility of violence.
The original Sabbath, it is said, happened when God took a moment to rest from the work of creation and looked on the whole of it and recognized it as good. I presume God knew it was good all along, but there is something qualitatively different about allowing ourselves the time and space to contemplate the reality. That’s when goodness is revealed to us . . . given to us, if you will.