To help me recover from my latest hip operation (which has been very successful, thank God), I decided to visit some old friends for a couple of weeks.( I have to confess that I am enjoying being able to say this so casually, without any thought of finding priests to fill in for me while I am away, and the hundred and one other routine matters needing to be foreseen in running the parish.)
I first went by train to Washington, D.C. The two hours on Amtrak are very pleasant, and it was especially interesting at this time to see the green appearing on the leaves of trees in the woods, with here and there a tree in full white blossom. There are also three crossings of bits of the Chesapeake Bay where the water can be calm and full of little boats or grey and choppy with just a few gulls braving the wind. The saddest sight on this particular journey is the back view of some awful slums in Baltimore. Thankfully, since I started riding this route, many of them have been torn down and replaced with new dwellings, but there are still too many half falling down houses which remind me of bits of the so-called Third World.
In Washington, I stayed with a friend whom I have known for almost fifty years. We met in Europe and have kept in touch ever since. He is a generous and welcoming host, and the kind who just includes me in whatever he is doing – but only if I want to be included. A long-term member of St Peter & St Paul’s, the National Cathedral’s congregation, I went with him to some of the glorious services there for Holy Week and Easter. The High Mass on Easter Day was packed to the doors, and they can seat 3000. The choir and organists were, as always, superb, and there was a splendid sermon from the Bishop of Washington on how we must be “poised for resurrection”. It was not St Clement’s (where is?) but it was beautiful Catholic liturgy, with the Dean and two other priests celebrating, incense being used in all the proper places, and a joyful (and swift) distribution of Communion to all who came to the several Stations. Of course I disliked the streaming ribbon at the end of a bendy pole, but there were also many beautiful traditional banners carried in the procession.
After six days in D.C. where the cherry blossom was out in its glory, I flew to Palm Springs, California, changing planes in Denver, Colorado, and was soon flying over arid desert land criss-crossed with canyons. The only running water I saw was the river in the Grand Canyon, which I believe never dries up. Palm Springs and the other desert places such as Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert are an astonishing green when the plane crosses the San Jacinto Mountains and swoops down into the little airport. Everywhere there are green lawns, waving palms, bright beds of flowers and many beds more sensibly planted with desert cactuses, some in flower. The temperature was in the nineties but the air was dry and my friends met me at the airport with their car minus its roof, so that we drove to their house with a lovely warm breeze keeping us cool (if you see what I mean).
I stayed a week with these friends, one of whom I went to school with at the age of eleven, so even more long-standing friends than my host in Washington. Both are retired and have also a very charming house in London, off Clapham Common, so they have six months in each. I caught them in Palm Springs just in time before they went back to London for the summer and, not having seen them for quite a while, we had a lot of news to catch up with. I confess I did little but swim in their pool and lie in the sun, and I’m sure both of these did my hip a world of good. Of course we went out to dinner with other friends’ homes and to great restaurants, but on the whole I simply read the Divine Office (in Spanish, to brush up my Spanish) and a few mystery novels, and that was all. A great rest with good old friends. I did my bit for the Californian drought by drinking wine instead of water wherever possible.
And now I am home, having flown (rather oddly) via San Francisco, and I must say it is great to be back in Philadelphia and my new loft apartment. The city is full of vigor, with every cafe and restaurant getting their tables and umbrellas out to cover the sidewalks. The more I live here, the more I love Philly. In my eleven years here, I have seen so much growth, with fine modern skyscrapers rising to form a changed skyline, and so many wonderful restaurants opening up all over the place. And then there is St Clement’s, where I will be sitting in Choir on Sunday, happy to see the congregation developing and grasping new opportunities for mission and outreach. Like Philly itself, it is growing and opening up the old rites and music of the Church to both the local community and to people who travel quite a distance to be there. I am happy to worship with them in the beauty of holiness.