Words by Scott Axtmann
Dear Providence: I adore you! You’re like a massive art installation spanning hundreds of blocks. You ravish me and ruin me. You fuel my imagination and provoke me to pray.
While sitting at my corner table in Saint Monday, a new cafe on West Fountain’s cobblestone street, an old friend approached me during my time of scribbling into my notebook. He seemed more vibrant than usual, perhaps because his wife was about to give birth to their first child. He’s a design guru whose innovative thinking earned him a RISD degree and a TED talk just out of school. The short chat sent my pen flying in a new direction. It’s mysterious how my interaction with this messy little city impacts how I think and create.
I wandered through the city with a friend to Ken’s Ramen. We could barely fit into the closet-sized restaurant. The demand to get a seat, and having to wait almost an hour, created an almost spiritual anticipation in me. I was not disappointed!—the spicy mushroom ramen electrified my mood; the people sitting six inches away forced me to face social fears; the blaring music drove me to employ my most animated voice projection. Can spicy ramen actually make one more passionate about life? I think yes! The tastes and sounds and theatrics fused like a symphony around me, inspiring my heart. By the way, while editing this piece I found out Ken’s Ramen is closing! What? C’mon!
Can spicy ramen actually make one more passionate about life?
As I walked out of Ken’s feeling full and happy, some newer graffiti—at least I thought it was new—slapped me in the face with its large letters, silently crying “you left me for dead”. I wondered if this might be a response to the recent shooting of a 15-year old boy in front of the Tech School on the West End. Perhaps the words were giving voice to a boy who no longer has a voice. The tragedy of kids killing kids suddenly overwhelmed my heart. But I welcome these moments of sorrow. They help me to be more empathetic. I groan for a better world and think of the biblical imagery of a future city without sorrow and death.
A short while later, I noticed a few guys doing suspicious business in the parking lot where I work. The weather was unusually warm—these guys hanging in our lot must have felt it was a perfect day for a lemonade stand or kite flying or selling drugs out their car window. As I walked by, I gazed a little too long, and it made me wonder if they had seen me and might want to hurt me. Maybe that wasn’t fully rational, but I started thinking about the safety of the workers in the office building next to us. Entering the building, I considered what to do but decided to leave it alone. One of my coworkers, however, went straight out there and told them it wasn’t cool to do what they were doing. The car drove away. I thought about how acts of bravery make the world a safer place.
The warmer weather—especially during late December, when it should be frigid—unleashes all kinds of colorful characters out into the open. The sunshine adorns people with an unusual happiness, as if everyone has taken a happy drug that morning. Eyes meet more frequently on the street as if everyone knows that something special is happening—God, or whoever they believe controls the weather, has decided to send sunshine and warmth. The feeling of favor in the air brings joy and joy affects people’s interactions and out of these joyful interactions creativity and love bloom all over.
I came back to the counter at Saint Monday to get another refill. I confess I can be pretty snobby about coffee but this place never lets me down. The barista had propped the door wide open and fresh air poured in. Sun burst through the windows and stirred our conversation to a friendly peak.
These unpredictable experiences in the city wash over my soul the way paint washes color and composition onto a canvas; every application morphs the painting. Conversation with an old friend, glimpses of street murals, tastes of artisanal food, brief glances into countless faces and the mosaic of sounds always mix together to carry me into fresh realms of thought and creativity. Good things happen when I venture out of the office bubble and into the playground of the city.
This is the third of CityLove’s Dear Providence series, in which members of our community share their experience of the city.
Read the series:
Scott grew up in Western Massachusetts and came to the faith at the age of 21. As the outcome of his transformed life, he founded and now Pastors Renaissance Church and CityLove.