There is a street near my house that brings me to life.
The noise and the sound and the orchestra of activity hold your attention hostage. The motorcycle horns honk, the car tires shriek, the rickshaw drivers yell, the donkeys neigh, the bells on the feet of the camels jingle, the men voices lividly debate as chai slips down their throats.
The draft of a passing vehicle whips a stray newspaper around my feet and reminds me to pay attention. Three roads intersect at a watering hole for animals and I’m one of two women out and about. The men control and command attention from the unruly traffic, while young men on motorcycles attempt to hit me rather than obey my outstretched palm as that might be an avenue to conversation. As I place my sandaled foot down on top of dirt and trash, dodging oncoming vehicles, I worry not only about my safety, but that of the 2 boys playing tag across from me. My heart beat trips as the toddler howls with laughter, tumbles into the street, falling down before a motorcycle rushes by. My hand clinches my dupatta under my chin and I feel my blood pulsing.
I pull the edge of my dupatta’s fabric just up over my nose. Though the heat is stifling, keeping my dupatta across my face deflects wondering eyes across the street. But as I do this, I misplace my step and my hand catches on something rough as I try to regain my balance. The roughness turns to silky smoothness as the goat I’ve grazed against turns it’s head in bewilderment. My legs brush against his fur in the crowd and I pat his knobby horns as I walk away down the alley.
A crowd of men stoops over ahead, surveying the work of a man sitting on the ground. Giant ice blocks the size of small refrigerators line the alley as the blocks perch on burlap sacks. As the man chisels away, releasing chunks and chips of frozen paradise, the wind picks up and I feel the coolness rush upon me. Drops of melted ice land on my feet and the fresh sensation in the day’s sun sends shivers up my spine.
A young boy sits on the doorstep of the house a few steps deeper into the alley. Beside him rests a basket big enough for at least 3 Baby Mosess, but that currently is filled to overflowing with flowers. He skillfully strings them along with white beads onto garlands that will grace the necks of honored guests. As he rustles through the petals, picking the most beautiful blooms, their scent wafts through the air. My nose cannot help but gulp in this gentle fragrance that seems to paint the air with pleasantness.
My favorite stop is just before I emerge into the market at the end of the alley- a naan bakery. Twenty men fill the store as they pound out dough, pull naan out from the depths of underground ovens, and stack the beautiful pieces into piles in the window. The aroma quickly overtakes the scent of flowers and my mouth begins to water. Just one, I tell myself as I tear off a piece of the fresh baked goodness and walk through the crowded streets. The naan’s warmth slides down my throat and I seem to feel it hit bottom in my belly.
Piles upon piles upon piles of spices line the entranceway into the heart of the market. Like a landing strip for an airplane, they beckon you to draw near and stop over. Seeds and powders, oranges and yellows, sticks and nuts- all wait eagerly as my eyes pour over the Urdu script, dancing with the swirls of the letters, reading the names of the spices, and calling my early language lessons back to me.
This street that overwhelms my senses reminds me life is in our midst. Whatever we hear or feel or touch or know or smell or taste or see. They are all reminders to be present. To live full and deeply. To gather about yourself things that remind you of beauty, curiosity, joy, depth, and passion- so that you might relish in them, enjoy them, and share them freely.
Perhaps this is Emmanuel. Christ has come to enter into our own human senses, to experience our bodies, to be present with us, to share in the taste of Bread and Wine, to feel the wind and the storms engulf him, to feel gut wrenching pain, to have spices poured over His body in sacrifice, and to point us towards abundant living so that we might know and share and hope in this Great Love.
May we each be brought to life by the holiness that surrounds us in the ordinary, even on the streets where we live.