Monday, August 18, 2003

Cleveland in the Dark or A Light Shines in the Darkness

As Amy has detailed, we on a whim, decided to spend a few vacation days in Cleveland, Ohio before Katie had to start school today. It turned out to be quite an adventure.

On the way there, just west of Toledo we saw a van towing a U-haul that looked like it had been blown up. It was on fire, raging with dark black smoke billowing into the sky. I mused at the time that it might have been some terrorist who had his bomb go off before reaching his target. I don't know what it actually was, since the Cleveland Plain Dealer carried almost no news in their Friday's edition due to the blackout.

We stopped for lunch at one of the Ohio Turnpike rest areas. Amazingly hardly any brochures, etc of what to do while you are in Ohio. Does Ohio not promote tourism? I also noticed that there are hardly any billboards on the turnpike. The gas prices and food are reasonable on the Turnpike which is laudable though.

We arrived at Berea, a suburb of Cleveland around in the early afternoon and everyone went for a quick swim. Then it was off to the "The Feast" in Little Italy for some Italian for dinner. But on the way the traffic lights went out and the Little Italy trip turned out to be a quick tour of what wasn't going on because of the power outage and after we picked up a schedule we sought out St. Andrews Benedictine monastery, that turned out to be not that far away from where we were. Traffic was a challenge. No one was obeying the standard rules for driving when the traffic lights were out, and instead of stopping and taking turns, it was more like once one car went forward they were followed by a bunch as though an imaginary green light had come on, and they stopped only when someone bravely started inching out in another direction and was followed by a similar bunch of cars. Amazingly though I didn't see any accidents, perhaps these Ohioans have this down to a science?

The power was out in the monastery but candles were lit and we chanted vespers with the monks with a piano accompanying us. It was a pleasant interlude from the chaos on the roads outside. It also called to mind the real principle of life that all the noise, hustle and bustle of life can crowd out. It was the first "light" in the darkness of that day.

After Vespers and a brief look at the reliquary that contained some very big bones pieces of St. Boniface and others, it was back on to the streets. By this time it was time for dinner and there of course was nothing open, until thankfully we found one convenience store where the clerk was adding items up on a scratch pad (without sales tax--I might add). We bought some crackers and such and were thankful for the clerk who was the second "light" of the day.

Next it was off to the a Byzantine Catholic Church. There were a few cars and Amy worried that I had gotten the wrong time down for the vigil Mass of Our Lady's Dormition. But it turned out that I hadn't but only a few people were in attendance. Even though the prayers were a little unfamiliar to me, I enjoyed the simplicity and constant focus on God, (except for one humorous incident that Amy relates where the female cantor stopped the priest and loudly instructed another congregant on what page we were on). Begging God to have mercy on you, thanking God for all that he has done, and even receiving a blessing as you receive communion gave me a great sense of what the Eucharist is all for the journey, God's presence going with you. A third "light" shining in the darkness.

When we got to the Residence Inn, everyone was outside. Hotels clearly aren't built with power outages in mind. One window in our room, opened but had no screen, so there was little air flow in a room suddenly bereft of air conditioning. The staff was a great help though, cooking extra food (albeit burning it) and providing a keg of beer that the guests had already drained by the time we arrived back (we could have used a miracle at Cana here). Darkness fell, and an alarm went off in our room. This turned out to be a good thing. The Russian maintenance man (almost everyone who worked spoke at the hotel spoke with a Russian accent), fixed the alarm and then turned on the fireplace providing some much needed light to the room (that none of us had thought of in our bemoaning our not having bought a flashlight at the convenience store). The staff at the hotel, then was the fourth "light" that shone in the darkness.

That night, I stood at the open window observing city lights off in the distance, while our skyline remained dark. I stood there receiving a gentle breeze and marveling at the night sky often hidden by the glow of the artificial lights below. Every now and then there was an unusual flash of light (almost like an explosion) that would go off. I couldn't figure out what that was, but it might have been some low class fireworks--since I did see a few of those go off too. Later a nearly full moon lit the sky, the fifth "light", a light of hope reflecting the Sun that soon would rise--like all of the other lights that reflected the Son of God in the darkness that fell on Cleveland last Thursday.