“To be engaged in some small way in the revival of one of the great cities of the world is to live a meaningful existence by default.” – Chris Rose
57: Baseball, baps, beignets: Pittsburgh, Belfast, New Orleans. 57: a seemingly random number connecting three places in a variety of ways.
In Pittsburgh it’s a sin to purchase anything other than Heinz ketchup, crucial to enjoying a Primanti Bros. sandwich at a Pirates game, if only you know to ‘tap the 57’
on the bottle. In Belfast and New Orleans it’s a shared bus route number to separate YAV placements: one taking me past bap bakeries decorated with paramilitary murals, and the other past beignet bakeries adorned with Mardi Gras remnants. A parallel triangle if such a thing could ever exist.
Changes of people, place, and purpose always mean the following feelings will appear in an irregular order and at inappropriate times: sadness, excitement, anxiety, fear, anticipation, freedom, confusion, clarity, nostalgia, unconscious comparison, and an extreme stimulation of the senses. It’s about 57 varieties of feelings.
Even though I’ve been experiencing these feelings that define the beginning of a YAV year, I’ve stopped comparing and started noticing the world’s connectivity.
One of my roommates, and coworkers, Riley, always uses the word “synchronicity” when referring to those seconds of time when you feel an uncanny, meaningful coincidence in connection with a person, place, or thing. In the past year I’ve been paying closer attention to how God is speaking through those signs and symbols. Almost a year ago to date I witnessed this in Belfast: In Retrospect – it’s never been more apparent to me that there is an underlying thread that binds people and places together between seemingly different universes, the signs shouting, “You are here. You belong here. Recognize it, and go with it. God is with you.”
I’ve began to find joy in those little moments of synchronicity weaving together my YAV years:
- Bus drivers being “that’s so New Orleans” and me thinking “that’s so Belfast!”
- The green paint on the YAV house remniscent of the green hills in Northern Ireland
- Southern New Orleans hospitality echoing the feeling of instant friendship with N. Irish natives
- Living in East Belfast and working at the New Orleans East Public Library
- My favorite Irish blessing ending a church service in a New Orleans Presbyterian church
- A city obsessed with their football team, and another city obsessed with their American football team
- The New Orleans drawl and the Belfast accent, almost a whole new languages of their own
- Cherokee being spot on when saying “everyone here is like a different version of all of my church members in Virginia”
- The French Quarter and the Cathedral Quarter
- Two cities that fostered and influenced some of our greatest artists, in word and song: C.S. Lewis, Van Morrison, Louis Armstrong, Tennessee Williams
- King Cake and mince pies: once a year, always the talk of the town
When change has the power to be ugly, this is where the beauty can be found and embraced.
My journey to New Orleans hasn’t happened by chance. My relationship with faith began in New Orleans 9 years ago on a mission trip to rebuild after hurricane Katrina, and yesterday I spent the day doing flood relief work in Southern Louisiana with my current New Orleans housemates. It felt like exactly where I’m supposed to be.
A meaningful coincidence.
As I continue to settle in to my surroundings, get to know my housemates, and finish up job training with YMCA Educational Services, I’m learning to have patience. The first few weeks are going to be tiring and overwhelming, but beauty is found in building relationships and connections with a city continuing to revive itself. I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve already had in a short three weeks and can’t wait to share more stories about YAV year round 2 with you!