Sunday, January 18, 2009

Leaving New Orleans

I left New Orleans today. I was there for the SSWR conference. I think this was the seventh one I've attended in the past eleven years. Anyway, I was staying on Magazine a few blocks off Canal, in the Country Inn. When it was time to head over to the airport I had considered taking the airport shuttle or a taxi, but it seemed I had time to take the bus, so I walked up to the Walgreens at the corner of Elk Place and Tulane to catch the Tulane bus out to Carrollton to catch the E-2 Airport bus (which doesn't come downtown on weekends). It's strange, but there is no direct bus between the New Orleans airport and the downtown area where the hotels are. Sure, on weekdays the E-2 runs from the airport to downtown, but it stops about six blocks away from where there is a high concentration of hotels, and like I said, it doesn't even run on weekends, so you have to take the Tulane Bus up there to connect with it. I had planned to take the 3:40 Tulane Bus, which would have given me about a thirty minute wait at the corner of Tulane and Carrollton. There wouldn't be anything wrong with that. There is a Nike shoes factory store and a bowling alley there, so I could have bought shoes for my son an perhaps bowled ten frames. But, I was going to catch the 4:10 Tulane bus, which would give me all of three minutes to make the conection to the 4:29 E-2. I overheard someone at the bus stop say that busses "run slow" on Sundays, and I wondered if I would miss the connection to the E-2 and need to wait an hour there.

Anyway, when I got to the Walgreens I started up a conversation with a guy standing there. First off, I just asked him if the Tulane bus, the route 39, would stop there, and he said the bus "would be coming just around the corner in a few minutes to take us all down Tulane," which was a relief to hear. He asked if I had any spare change, and I said, "yeah, I've got to keep some here for the bus fare, but I know I can spare at least a quarter," and rather than scoff at a mere quarter he took it with an expression of delight, smiled at me, nodded, and said, "it adds up, you know." Gee, I thought, giving someone a quarter is like nothing, like sharing a match with someone to help them light up a cigarette or something like that. But I was really glad that he was so happy, and the little symbolic gift seemed to set a happy mood as we were standing there. As I often do when I'm standing with someone, I was friendly and mentioned I was going back up to Springfield, Illinois. We talked together briefly about where we were from. I said my family was from California and I was born there, and my new friend said he'd been there, and he named some towns around Berkeley and Oakland and he knew the names of some streets there. His speech was very slightly disorganized. He spoke vaguely about falling off his bike (somewhere in California?) and said he was embarrassed to admit it (admit what? falling off his bike once?) Anyway, he obviously wanted to connect with me in a friendly way, as he told me, when he heard I was from the West Coast originally, that "yeah, I'm from there too" (although he didn't exactly say where.

Then, suddenly, our conversation took a profound and spiritual turn. All of a sudden he started singing a Sunday School song. He had a sweet African-American voice of a middle-aged man, and it just conveyed joy and devotion and enthusiasm. I was stunned and transported. He sang a Stuart Hamblen medley, starting with the cute little children's song "I love to go to Sunday School" and then moving on to the more inspiring "It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)." There was another song I didn't recognize about loving Jesus, and my new comrad at the bus stop sang it with sincerity and conviction. He was totally into it, and so was I, standing there beaming at him. When I hear songs about The Friend of God I know that the same Spirit was inspiring all the Manifestations, but I don't usually feel any need to discuss theology or my religion with a person so obviously moved by love for God. I just soaked up the devotion to God's Messenger and the feeling of love. Well, about that time the bus arrived to pick us up, just as my new friend had predicted. I guess this guy might have been slightly teched in the head, but I would have liked to get to know him better.

I mean, it's a little beyond normal convention to start singing like that while waiting at the bus stop, but feelings of devotion can come down on a person almost any time. It's hard to stop those feelings, and why should you, anyway? Who cares if you're a little crazy? What's that in comparison of the delight of contemplating God? I know I can feel a sudden rush of trembling awe and joy each afternoon when I say the short obligatory prayer (but heck, I wouldn't sing it out on the street). But still, that sudden quantum leap from the mundane act of standing around waiting for a bus to thinking about God was brilliant. After singing his song he told me he would have a CD out soon. I hope he does.

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