I stumble upon churches.
I stumble upon graveyards.
I stumble upon topics with old friends that none of us set out in advance to cover in our conversations.
Some days off work last week allowed me to visit family and friends in both New Orleans and Houston and to do my inveterate stumbling.
I had never before been in either St Alphonsus Church or St Mary’s Assumption Church in the Irish Channel section of New Orleans. A traffic detour took me near them one day last week. I took a chance, parked the rental car, and walked into a piety that was a hundred and fifty years old, lofty ceilings and carved wooden statues and the tombs of nineteenth-century pastors under the marble flooring of a sanctuary.
Another day I wanted to go to the Garden District Book Shop and parked near Commander’s Palace, an Uptown restaurant that my family sometimes used for birthdays and out-of-town visitors. Locking the car, I turned around and found myself next to the open gates of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Sunny skies and uncharacteristically dry air encouraged me to venture in for five minutes and see still another of New Orleans’ “Cities of the Dead.”
Over coffee, over cocktails, in a retirement home, in a retreat house parlor, with Mexican food, with Irish beer, I spent time in the kinds of conversations that are lifelines for me. We all of us - classmates and teachers and friends - took the measure of our years together and resisted simple information and mused on the ways lives go. Again and again I found myself across from people who gained energy from the words, the attention, the memories invoked, the futures imagined.
I like the people and the places of my life.