On the 17 hour Amtrak ride from San Francisco to Portland, I struggled to understand exactly what I was making the trip for. Some things were clear: I want to spend time with my sister, her husband, and their 10-day old baby. Portland is one of my favorite cities to be in (not just because of my family). And the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly is here, and I will host a Street Retreat here on Saturday, as I have at GAs in Long Beach, Ft. Worth, St. Louis, and Ft. Lauderdale, as well as the 2008 Assembly in Portland.
I questioned: How could time on streets compete with a brand-new nephew? How could I connect meaningfully with the convention without paying the $400 registration (I had not requested a scholarship or volunteer shift in advance defray the cost)? Why would I sleep on the same streets, at the same convention alone, where I had with 3 other Fools in 2008?
After an evening with an adorable baby and his family, and a good night's sleep on an air-bed, I set out for the convention center on foot this morning.
Walking the streets has a remarkable ability to orient me to my relationship to a place.
As I came down Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, through historically African American neighborhoods being transformed through gentrification, I stopped at a mural on the side of a community health center. It read: "Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival. - Rene' Dubos...1981" Those words drew me into reflection on tolerance, and what we might offer each other beyond tolerance 34 years later.
I also met Simon with Boo-Boo, his 16-year-old poodle, panhandling drivers "to take care of Boo-Boo," who won't eat the dog food offered by local charities. He directed me to Blanchett House to find a free meal.
By the time I reached the convention center, it occurred to me that my work was to ground myself in the local ecology and bear witness to what happens on the boundaries between the convention and the streets.
The Faithful Fools often talk about bearing witness being our work, but remembering sometimes feels like revelation.