Thursday, May 24, 2007


My family traveled to Philadelphia last week for a family trip. We made it a long weekend, leaving on Thursday and returning Friday. The trip revolved around a visit to the exhibit of artifacts from King Tut’s tomb at the Franklin Institute. Since my daughter's are home schooled, and last year’s history subject was ancient Egypt, we thought this would be a good opportunity to bring some of that history into clearer focus. The exhibit was terrific, of course, but it ended up not being the highlight of the trip I my mind.

First we were struck by how much Philadelphia is a real city – in a good way. My wife and I lived in Detroit for 9 years. Detroit certainly is a place with it’s own special problems, but it is also a great city with much to recommend it. You cannot, however, say that it’s downtown is one of it’s strengths. In Detroit, there is some activity during the day, but it’s mostly the business crowd virtually all of whom live in the suburbs. There is no sense of a truly active urban life, certainly not after 5:00. Center City Philly, on the other hand, is clearly a place where people live. We spent most of our two days there walking around downtown, and I think the girls learned more from that experience than from the museum exhibit we ostensibly came to see. The variety of people, shops, events, street life, architecture and public art was fascinating, and we spent a lot of time just pointing things out to each other and talking about them as we walked. At one point, my wife described the place as very European – at least when compared to Detroit. I think she was referring to the amount of art and public space. I had to agree with her.

Among the new sights, we were able to see and meet several homeless people. This was a new experience for the girls. “Why is he sleeping in the doorway?” “Why did you give him money?” When we explained, the questions became, “Why doesn’t he have a home?” On the way home, we saw a woman at a rest stop along I-87 who was sitting outside with a sign that said she had no money for gas. She was wearing bedroom slippers for shoes, and it was apparent that she had fled her house in a hurry. We gave her some money and some food. The whole experience along this line was not only a good lesson for the girls, but also for me. As I tend to be a pretty stingy person, I was consciously trying to give to these people generously, and out of a sense of my own abundance, realizing that the small amount I would barely be missed. I fully realize that what little I gave them would not solve their problem, but was a simple act of human kindness. This may seem like a small thing, but as I said, I am stingy. Giving away cash does not come naturally to me.

I have to say that my favorite part of the trip was our excursion into the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. We had a little time to kill before our scheduled entry to the Tut exhibition and we found ourselves in front of the Cathedral and decided to go in to take a look around. Not being Catholic, and being raised in a small town, my girls had never seen anything quite like this before. My oldest was simply transported. So many colors, and shapes and so much artistry! There is a dome at the top of the cathedral, with stained glass windows surrounding it. They are actually quite hard to see from the floor of the nave, and I asked why they would take so much trouble to put all those windows and paintings and sculpture way up there where no one could see them. The oldest got it right off the bat. She said, “God can see them.” As we walked around, talking about the basilica, the transept making the shape of the cross, the purpose of the altar, and why the pulpit is off to the side, her face shone. As we viewed the devotional art in the chapels, and talked about why people come here to pray, and how these things can help us to see God more clearly, her eyes were bright. I loved it.

And then the next day, we found ourselves sitting in a 225 year old Quaker Meeting House. What a contrast! And another great opportunity to talk about how we go about Meeting with God.

I haven’t even touched on the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the golden artifacts of ancient Egypt and the fact that my girls at ages 9 and 5 still get totally fired up about a Merry Go Round. I’ll have to come back to those things later, perhaps. It was a good trip.

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