We welcome today’s guest writer, Kyle Sandison. Kyle graduated from Calvin College in 2008. He currently lives in Cambridge, MA, and is pursuing an M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He enjoys playing bluegrass and drinking single malt scotch.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.
New York City, like most cities, demands the devotion of its residents. The sophistication and hipness emanating from the window display of Jack Spade whispers gently in your ear: This could all be yours. The fragrance wafting from the Nuts 4 Nuts food cart proclaims a transcendent culinary escape only two blocks and a buck fifty away. It doesn’t end there. The bars and restaurants, Fifth Avenue and Wall Street, the trains and taxis all offer their relentless invitation to take part, engage, improve, consume.
I considered myself a disciplined man. I strove mightily against the prevailing forces of American Consumerism, but eventually I caved. Soon enough, the aromatic bliss of Nuts 4 Nuts brought me to my knees. The happiness and sense of belonging derived from wearing a Jack Spade blazer rivaled that of the gospel, only more immediate, more tangible.
One evening, on my way to partake of happy hour at a local wine bar, I was stopped. An Orthodox Jewish man standing on the side of the street interrupted my walk, “Excuse me, may I ask a favor?”
Startled, and a little impatient—happy hour doesn’t last all night, after all—I muttered an obligatory, “Sure.”
He began explaining that he was Jewish; I nodded. Then he explained that it was Friday evening, Sabbath. I nodded again.
Then he said, “I was wondering if you could help me with something, since I can’t do it on the Sabbath.”
I reluctantly replied, “Sure, what can I help you with?”
Looking relieved, he said “Thank you. Please come with me,” and darted away from the street onto a small sidewalk that led between two apartment buildings. As I followed I could see the sidewalk eventually opened into a large courtyard formed within the four or five apartment buildings on the block.
The courtyard, a rectangular concrete expanse, probably measured 150 feet long and 50 feet wide. Embedded within the concrete, a few square plots of dirt, roughly four feet by four feet, accommodated a few small trees and bushes.
As we entered, the courtyard lay completely still. The apartment buildings enveloped and immediately shielded us from the surrounding city. In the space of just a few steps along this sidewalk, the whole of New York seemingly faded away, while this courtyard remained set apart, consecrated, holy.
We walked to the right, along the back wall of the first building, toward the corner of the yard. Here a flight of concrete stairs led down from the courtyard level to a basement entrance. My guide hurried down the stairs and whisked me inside.
We entered a long, narrow, dimly lit hallway, and wound our way through the basement and eventually to another door. Taking his keys, the man unlocked the door and motioned me inside. Here I entered a small, low-ceilinged room with soft bluish carpet and light yellow walls. To the left I saw his wife sitting at the kitchen table. I sheepishly waved, and she smiled back. Directly in front of us stood an open door to the bedroom. Inside, the fluorescent overhead light revealed a simple room: a queen-sized bed with a hand stitched quilt, a brass colored reading lamp atop a small wooden nightstand, and a blue linen drape, covering the closet. The man pointed inside the bedroom to a light switch on the wall.
“Do you mind turning that off?” He asked.
I walked three steps into the bedroom, tapped the top of the switch with my index finger, the overhead light turned off, and the room went dark.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” he said, smiling.
“Is that all? Is there anything else I can do?”
“No, no that’s all. Thank you very much for your help,” he replied. “Here, please take this with you.” He handed me a plastic bag filled with freshly baked pastries.
“No, no, that’s not necessary,” I said. But he insisted. I took the pastries.
Then he showed me out of the apartment. I walked down the hallway, out through the courtyard and back onto Lorimer Street in Brooklyn. A few blocks away, the train rumbled on the elevated tracks as I set off again for the wine bar.