In northwestern Pennsylvania, there is a small city and in that city there is a chapel. The chapel is old, made of gray stone with a spire and stained glass windows that are so ancient their paint began to run decades ago. The chapel was built by a man for his wife—he gave her a place to worship God. I have sat in that chapel, written in my journal, thought, and prayed. I’ve flipped through the hymn books and sung a few songs. I’ve sung in the balcony where the sound hovers in the air and fills every corner of the pews below, a few times alone but one time with the small circle of women who anchored and mentored me in the past two years.
Outside the chapel, I’ve wandered on the college campus, marveling in the immaculate grounds and old architecture—some buildings are older than Canada. There’s the bridge that has a fresh board or two every year because some jealous undergrad man takes it out. (He wouldn’t want that senior to kiss his girl there on that certain night, because if the senior does, the undergrad can’t date her all year.) I’ve stepped into the state-of-the-art, modern library and researched Chinese Canadian history and the ethics in dementia care.
Then away over on the other side of campus is the hall with a music room where I took lessons to find my voice behind the performance curtain with its wings of fear and pride. Sometimes it made me cry. Just around the corner is the room where I waited for fellow students. There are the black leather couches in the corner. Here I interviewed a secular student and heard her empty but hopeful worldview. I did other homework here, realized the pervasiveness of the gay-rights movement, and watched a pre-election debate for student-body president.
Leaving the campus, a few turns—two lefts and one right—across the red-brick cobbled streets there is an old graveyard that is a regular garden of lichen-covered stones, moss, and rhododendrons. To the back of it is a ravine that dives down to a sparkling little river with twinkling waterfalls in a silent, silent world. (I wish I would have discovered this sooner.)
Heading out to the main streets, I’ve headed to the edge of town to an old building that looks like an over-sized trailer that once housed a relish business but now it’s a church. I worshipped there a couple times on a Sunday morning, but most often it was Tuesday evenings. I’d sit there surrounded by children of every colour and more adults who loved them and we’d sing “Angels Watching over Me,” and you could feel the angels listening. It was here that I held on to my love of children, even as I lost and regained all confidence in my teaching abilities. It’s also here where I put a finger on the heartbeat of Anabaptism in the real world, even as I studied all the ideals. I met women here who fight hard for the underprivileged, talk it out, laugh loud, and go home to do the laundry. Joanne, Joanna, Sherri, Kaitlyn, Laura—I can’t name all of you, but I wish I could say what you did for me.
Somewhere back there in that tangle of houses I visited the gaunt woman with three toddlers who just keeps having babies. I came with a friend who wanted to drop off a gift because the baby was sick. (Her older brother had squirted cleaner in her eyes.) Another house back there holds two beautiful, troubled girls who I met first in that trailer church. I’d come here to pick them up and drop them off and try to keep them out of each other’s coiled black hair. (So, are you going to your grandma’s or your mom’s house tonight when we drop you off? You should not trash-talk Joanne.)
I don’t know when it was exactly, but I can remember the moment when I realized that directionally challenged me could get around all right on these streets. I even know the two back ways to Wal-Mart.
Then there was that other moment, riding through on the bus that I realized this is the end. Sure, I’ll come through this city a time or two, fill up at the Kwik Fil on the triangle corner, eat ice cream at Cold Stone, maybe even sleep in the Days Inn, but it won’t be the same. I’m going back to a place I call home, now. I’ll change and so will the city.
Meadville, PA, this is good-bye. You are a place in my heart.