N.B.: I've been in a reflective mood lately, and with us moving and all, for some reason this has been on my mind.
My fourth trip to our nation's capital overwhelmed me with one feeling, and one feeling alone - I was coming home.
My first trip, in high school, was to the Mall and the Smithsonian. My second, in college, was to a Hilton on New Jersey Ave, near Union Station and Capitol Hill. My third, again to the Smithsonian via the Metro near my brother's apartment in Gaithersburg (I had gone to stay with him prior to beginning my time in seminary). My fourth, also via Metro, was my first visit to Wesley, to talk with the Financial Aid/Housing Director about setting up accommodations for my impending time.
I got off at the Tenleytown stop, on Wisconsin Ave., NW. There's a beautiful, old-fashioned Roman Catholic Church there - St. Anne's - and the Tenley Campus of American University (it's really just an off-campus dormitory, sitting on Nebraska Avenue). You walk down Nebraska Ave, past the local NBC affiliate, a Navy Chapel - the Naval Computer and Communications Center is on the southeast corner of the intersection of Nebraska and Massachusetts Avenues - and all the while I walked, besides marveling at how beautiful the neighborhood was, how different from my previous experiences of Washington, I had this overwhelming sense that I had, just a few months prior to my 25th birthday, come to a place I could call home.
My four years living in Washington will always be special to me. I did a whole lot of living, and learning, in that time. I fulfilled a childhood dream of living in Washington, DC. I was studying a subject I loved, with a community of friends and a larger community of like-minded individuals with whom to argue and laugh and sit around and BS and just enjoy life. From the moment I entered that part of the city, though, I had the distinct feeling this was the place I was supposed to be.
I reached the corner of Nebraska Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue, and turned north. I walked past the entrance to American University, down a slope and stood and looked at the entrance to Wesley Theological Seminary. The chapel faces Mass. Ave, and on the outside wall of the back wall, facing the street, is a huge statue of Jesus. Our Lord is supposed to be blessing the city and environs. However, due to flaws in the stone, the blessing is being made with his left hand, an insult and even curse in some cultures. So, I suppose, a bit equivocal.
I was entering seminary at a time when my life was, to be blunt, in turmoil and I personally near collapse. I felt isolated. I was quite alone in the world in many ways. I was going to a place where I knew no one, was not even sure I belonged, and faced a whole host of inner problems that I really had no idea I had to deal with. All the same, after a short, friendly visit on campus, with reassurances, I knew where I was going was right.
In the ensuing four years, I would come to know the streets and neighborhoods around Wesley well. Many walks, most just to spend time walking, some to get to the Tenleytown Station so as to get other places, some to spend time hand in hand with someone special, acquainted me with how beautiful this part of the District of Columbia was and is. The Spring Valley Shopping Plaza, about a mile north of campus on Massachusetts, had a CVS for immediate needs, and a wonderful old delicatessen, Wagshals, that in the future, would become someplace special for me. Right behind the little shopping center was a grocery store. There were another couple buildings on this one-block stretch, one empty until 1992 when a Crate & Barrel would fill it. The other was office space that was just opening as the Law School for AU.
The side- and backstreets were tree-lined and narrow, sometimes winding. Among the residents were Senators and Congress members, diplomats and senior members of the bureaucracy. Just north of the Tenleytown station on Wisconsin Avenue, in a nondescript building above a secondhand bookstore sat the office of the Brazilian Naval attache (for those who don't understand this kind of stuff, that's usually a place for spies). The McDonalds on Wisconsin, right up the street from a pizzeria where we would go on Wednesday nights ($1 pitchers with a large pie, very conducive to discussing theology), was a place I saw Sen. Phil Gramm once, sitting and eating a Big Mac with someone from his staff.
My wife tells me I am superstitious. Not in a "step on a crack" kind of way; more as someone who considers the confluence of dates and events important. It was 20 years, in 1990, from the time my family moved to the home where my parents still live. This summer marks the 20th anniversary of my move to Wesley. I very quickly came to the conclusion that my adult life, in the most important respects, began that summer and fall, that my life consisted of before Wesley and after Wesley. I met people who I still consider my closest friends. Very quickly I felt accepted by a group of students, both upperclass folks and first years, who were like-minded regarding all sorts of theological, socio-cultural, and political issues. I became a part of a community of people, and I felt affirmed in ways that made it safe for me to deal with all the psychological baggage I carried with me.
At Wesley, on the fringes of the territory set aside for our national capital, I found myself. It all started 20 years ago, and my life hasn't been the same in all sorts of wonderful ways. If I could, I suppose that given the least excuse, I would rush back there in a heartbeat. For all that I know my roots lie in the rural confines of upstate New York and the northern tier of Pennsylvania, of the area around Dayton and Springfield, OH, and that my family right now is midwestern, more than any place or space other than my childhood home, Washington, DC became and remains home for me.