The row houses in the Kensington area were originally built for workers in the vicinity of the factories that employed them. They are a monument to industriousness and dignity. The factories were not social institutions, but apparently it was possible for many families to live in their own little house in the neighbourhood. It was a short commute to the workplace. There were many little corner stores selling things of daily needs, and bars for those who had daily or occasional wants. Some avenues were commercial districts with a variety of stores and shops. I have seen a library in a park, schools and a hospital – all in a similar architectural style making use of brickwork, just the way the factories were built. And there were many churches to comfort the ones hit by hardship and to celebrate with the ones who were able to make it.
It is the custom of the Simple Way community to start the day with a common prayer at eight. After arriving in Philadelphia very tired, I realized that I am travelling very lightly (on purpose) and thus have neither a watch nor an alarm clock with me. How am I going to meet the community on time with my internal clock influenced by time zone changes and the tiredness from traveling on a train overnight?
I eventually figured out the technical part. I can use my Swiss cell phone as a timekeeper and alarm clock. But what I experienced was so much nicer: Fifteen minutes before the set time, a sparrow landed on the air conditioning unit that is installed in the window right next to my bed. The little bird started to happily chirp away for a few minutes. This unspectacular bird song was waking me up gently.
What a contrast to the repeat sirens from emergency vehicles, mixed in with the low rumble of the elevated subway system, and the cacophony of neighbourhood sounds and voices that is an almost constant companion in the background.
I am grateful for the little bird. It came back again this morning, right on time, to remind me of the beginning of another beautiful day in an unfamiliar city. Let the prayers begin.