I am sitting at the library. I have been here for the past four and a half hours, sitting on a hard wooden chair, working at a table whose height would not be approved by my physical therapist as “ergonomic.” While trying to work I have endured math tutoring at the next table, a woman’s multiple calls to her office about tomorrow’s presentation, and a librarian whose booming voice might have suggested a different career path. I have heard all this in spite of my ear buds plying me with “Sheep May Safely Graze” and “Be Thou My Vision.” This is not to mention the number of passersby who obviously have not been able to shower recently.
I am spoiled. I miss my cushy chair in my private office. But the church building that is home to my cushy chair and my private office has been without power for nearly four days, following the freak October snowstorm that has crippled New England. Most of my parishioners have been without power as well, and we’re all sharing stories and comparing notes on how we’re keeping warm and whether or not our smart phones have service.
Some people refer to it euphemistically as pioneer life. Others call it camping. I don’t care for either one. I don’t like camping when I plan on doing it, much less when it is forced upon me. But here I am, fleeing the 54-degree temp outside, and I hear a man say to his companion, “Well, I feel like sitting here and reading, but I hate to stay inside when it’s so nice out. There will be plenty of days this winter when we need to stay in the library all day.”
I try not to complain. I have a home. I will have heat once the power is restored. I know I am blessed.
What caught me by surprise today was not my encounters with the homeless or with wooden chairs. What surprised me was my insistence on staying here. Two colleagues offered me space in their churches. Three parishioners and a friend invited me to their homes. And here I still sit, gathered around a table with an old man wearing three layers of clothes and University of Michigan hat, the big guy in the gray sweatshirt and New York Mets hat, and the hard-working, studious man in the Adidas hat. Others have come and gone. We are the faithful. We will endure the non-bathers and booming-voiced librarians that disturb us. This is our table.
I feel strangely united with the people around me, at this table and others around us. We are here because of the storm. We are here because we have studying to do, or work we must complete, or simply because we cannot stand being disconnected in this world of constant electronic connection.
It feels a little bit like church. We come to seek shelter from the storm. We come because we want to learn or we want to serve or simply because we need to be connected. We don’t always have much else in common. We wear different hats. We have different loyalties. But still we come. Again and again we come and sit on those hard wooden seats and feel connected with the diversity of people around us. And again and again we are warmed.
It is now five hours that I’ve been sitting here, and although that is four hours longer than my usual worship service, I still feel the need to give a blessing, a benediction, to my fellow congregants before I leave. So I envision myself standing, as I always do, on the edge of the platform, my arms spread to their full six-foot wingspan, and I say, “Go in peace, my friends, and remember where you find your hearts warmed.”