Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Brightness That Beckons

Tim was feeling uncomfortable. Our kind neighbors made us feel so welcome and special at the Independence day celebration—Tim did not want to be an honored guest or a distraction tonight. Was it the chance to be part of another neighborhood experience or just wondering how the Indian culture would merge with a Catholic celebration or the junior high humor about the " Tingling Boys Cross" that made me convince Tim to come with me?
Sign Tim and I saw on the corner of our street.
 Tim and I set out down our road in a light rain.  Today was one of the first days the monsoon season presented itself in full.  It rained steadily all day.  Some roads were almost flooded when Tim came home from the middle school/high school campus.  He saw women holding up their saris as they waded through puddles. Laborers with heavy loads on their heads were going right through the puddles carrying on as usual.  We avoid puddles and water rushing down the street.  “Where is all that gray water coming from?”  I wonder.

We pass tiny crowded shops with tin roofs, turn down the narrow alley that leads to an area called the Christian Colony behind our apartment complex.  Stalls selling fresh cauliflower, green beans, tomatoes, and okra line the alley.  On our right is the neighborhood source of water—a faucet over a concrete slab. An older woman in a deep maroon sari is crouched scrubbing pots and pans. She is crouched so low and is so tiny she looks like a small child.

We reach a spot in the road where a sign is slung across the alley that says: “Welcome.”  Ten feet behind the welcome sign, a long piece of wood, blocking the road, is held up on chairs.  The sign states: NO ENTRY. The left side of the wood has a white arrow that points to the left and says “motorcycles.” The arrow on the right side of the sign directs people to another small alley.  We head to the right.  The alley is, with luck, 5 or 6 feet wide.  Tim is holding the umbrella, but I need to walk behind him. There is not room for us to walk side by side. The houses are continuous, like a child’s blocks lined up side by side. They have no space between them, but there are plants and greenery everywhere. This little alley is a small piece of calm. We turn and see tiny white and green lights, and brightness that beckons. Tim and I enter what appears to be a large hall. The alley that is blocked off has been covered and now has a gold honey comb ceiling.  Across the houses white sheets, garlands of red and white roses, and tiny lights make walls for this celebration hall. White plastic chairs are lined up in rows. It is magical. In this mega city of horns blasting, never ending traffic noise, and loud piped-in music, a chapel has been created in a narrow alley.

The alley turned into a celebration hall.
Tim and I are waved towards the shrine by a smiling man. The cross and Mary remind me of trees in Michigan after a snowfall. But instead of snow, they are covered with flowers. The man tells that this shrine was erected twenty-five years ago. “Twenty-five years!” he says with pride. I recall the Mumbai riots of 1992. Twenty-five years and this shrine, this neighborhood are still standing. The man invites us to stay for mass. Tim says that we are not Catholic and the man's face opens wide with a warm smile. "We all worship the same God!" he says.  We all worship the same God... Oh that this smiling, peaceful man in this tiny enclave could head our governments. Conservative, Liberal, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant. We all serve the same God.
The cross and shrine

Tim and I sit in a row of the plastic chairs for a few moments.  I am not ready to to leave this holy place. In my mind I am singing the song we sing in our Children's Worship Center: “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”  Men walk by us carrying large metal containers in cloth slings.  Tim whispers, “They’re bringing food.” We giggle.  People all over the world love a potluck!
A different, nearby shrine we saw on our way home.
We walk back home through the winding alleys.  Doors and windows are open. Walking down the narrow path is like walking down a hallway. We can’t help but take quick glances into the homes. We see beds next to front doors, pictures of Christ with a thorn crown, bright curtains, men without shirts sitting on chairs.   People smile at us as we navigate the narrow passages. I like this neighborhood with its intimacy. I like this community.  I like this brightness that beckons.


  1. Nancy, what a gifted writer you are! Your distinctive style is inviting in its simplicity, observation and heart. Thank you for taking me to Jubilee even though I went to yoga last night. Hope the week is shaping up well.

  2. Hi Tim and Nancy,

    Just letting you know I am really enjoying these posts. Keep up the writing.