A Soulful Experience

Many years ago I attended a conference in Atlanta to present a workshop on servant leadership. Sharon Daloz Parks delivered the keynote address for the event. Sharon is an educator, theologian, author, and extraordinary speaker. I first met her shortly after she left her post at Harvard and moved to the Seattle area to work with the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island.

At the Atlanta conference Sharon’s subject was “leadership for the new commons,” but what I remember most is a statement she made about her move from Harvard to an island off the coast of Washington. She told us about gazing out the airplane window as her flight approached Seattle. She was awed by the sight of Mt. Rainier towering 14,000 feet above sea level, and by the beautiful island-dotted Puget Sound.

As I remember her words from this long-ago talk, Sharon said that even though she had never been there before, she felt that this place was home. And then she offered a profound thought that I immediately understood: Every soul has a landscape engraved on it, and when you are physically in that landscape your whole being feels the perfect fit.

I Love to Travel

I have previously written in this blog about my love of travel. During my adult life I have journeyed through all 50 U.S. states and more than 30 countries on five continents.

During every trip I have experienced moments of enlightenment and awe. But it is when I visit San Francisco—when I return ‘home’—that I resonate with Sharon’s words. It never fails that as my airplane flies over the Sierra Nevada mountains and begins a descent toward SFO, a vibrant energy fills and buoys my body, mind and spirit. Then, when I am out walking the city streets, all of my senses come alive and I immerse myself in the eclectic mix of people, places, life styles, vehicles, sounds, smells, weather, and activities.

I am in San Francisco as I write these thoughts. This visit is somewhat truncated because of Covid precautions. Nearly everyone everywhere is wearing a mask. The hotel I am staying in required proof of vaccination, and signs on the doors of restaurants ask for proof of vaccination before being seated.

The Power of the Place is Still There

But enough of the city’s vibe remains to remind me how much I loved the pre-Covid hustle-bustle, the jumble on the sidewalks with tourists craning to see the sights, business people heading to the office, food carts selling hot dogs and pretzels, street people seeking a place of shelter, and wanderers like me. Today, the streets are less crowded and many restaurants have closed. Some have moved seating outside by installing booths in what was a parking lane on the street (see photo above).

The sounds of the city are muted, but I still hear voices speaking different languages, cable cars clanging, sea gulls squawking, traffic grinding, street merchants hawking, the ballpark crowd cheering.  I love climbing the hills through diverse neighborhoods, every now and then catching a glimpse of the bay and the majestic Golden Gate.

Traveling itself gives me energy and stimulates something in my genes. But the feeling I have when I arrive in San Francisco is different and deeper. I am nourished at the soul level by The City, the Bay, and the magnificent diversity.

Pre-Covid, I visited here regularly to attend meetings of the United Religions Initiative’s President’s Council. On those occasions I always budgeted a few days to simply BE in the city. I would spend that time — day and evening— walking, meeting people in parks and squares, and exploring. This trip is much more restricted, but I am still walking: nearly 30,000 steps and 10 miles yesterday. And, I will walk from downtown, through SOMA, to the ballpark for three games.

Nostalgia Stimulates Imagination

I love San Francisco, and like many lovers I don’t see all the faults of my beloved. And, my powers of reasoning are sometimes overruled by nostalgia. Even though Folgers and MJB no longer roast coffee south of the Bay Bridge, in my imagination I still smell the deep, rich aroma of roasters whenever I walk along the water front and under the bridge. Even though the Dungeness crabs are out of season, I still imagine the boiling pots on the Wharf.

The jazz and folk music establishments (such as the Matador, Hungry Eye, Velvet Lounge, Jazz Workshop, Purple Onion and many of the coffee houses) that once dominated North Beach are no longer there. But I can hear in my mind the sounds of my youth as I make my way through that area: Thelonious Monk, Jimmy Smith, Mose Allison, Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, Barbra Streisand, The Limelighters and various blues singers.

My visits to San Francisco are part reality, part myth and part memory… but they are always refreshing, and The City remains engraved on my soul. I shall return!



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2 Replies to “A Soulful Experience”

  1. Jeanne Finan says:

    I love this post. You took me right to San Francisco, not because it is my home but because your love for your place, your home shines through so vividly. Thanks for letting me travel there this morning.

  2. True for me as well. Heck, just the sourdough alone is enough to qualify as a religious experience!

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