Meeting God in the City
by Susan Johnstone
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I’m in the ‘big smoke’ of Brisbane. I have dropped Bruce off at an organic meeting in Bardon and I am taking the girls to check out the shops at Toowong Village. I cruise along the familiar roads and negotiate the traffic at the Toowong roundabout. Even in mid-morning, the traffic is heavy and I am swept along, not able to change lanes fast enough. I want to turn right to get to Toowong but instead I am driving down Milton Road, heading for Auchenflower.
I berate myself for being so stupid, missing the turn-off. I keep my eyes open for the next available turn, but each street has a sign prohibiting right turns. I check my mirrors constantly, watching for tail-gaters and impatient buses and trucks at my rear.
I hate the traffic. Why do so many people live in the city? And where are they all going? Shouldn’t they be at work? And why are they so busy, darting around like ants? I project all my frustrations at those around me. It’s all their fault that I can’t get onto Coronation Drive.
(When I’m cranky, I really like to ride it out and take it as far as I can!)
Now I’m coming into Milton. Oh, no! Next thing, I’ll be carried onto the freeway through the city. Stupid roads! Stupid city! I have to get out somehow.
I’m whingeing and complaining, while my cassette player is calmly playing Christian music. It seems so ironic to be listening to edifying music while I hang onto my negativity. I think God is trying to tell me something here.
I admit I may be unrealistic expecting to get the perfect turn to the right. It’s too late. Just cut my losses and hang a left instead.
I change lanes and turn left, back to do a big loop towards the Toowong Roundabout, where – hopefully – I can take the correct exit. I realise my need to be positive, instead of being cranky.
I look around me as we drive the back streets of lesser-known suburbs of Torwood and Rainworth. “Look at these houses!” I exclaim, pointing out beautiful old renovated Queenslanders with white verandahs.
We drive up hills and coast down the other side. “Look at the view!” I point out, trying to keep my eye on the winding road.
I manage to find my way back to the roundabout and finally take the correct turn. It’s not long before we can see the gleaming blue glass tower of Toowong Village shopping centre. We enter and start the tedious process of finding somewhere to park the car. There are heaps of vacant spaces - you just have to be disabled to use them, or a customer of a car washing service. I decide to keep the country dirt on my car, and end up finding a spot on level 5.
I get out, stretch my legs and unbuckle Jessie from her seat. Amarina gets out and we make our way through the catacombs of the car-park. The ramps lead us down, lead us up, and we walk forever to find an entrance into the actual shopping centre. Stupid place! I whinge inwardly. (I haven’t learned much.)
We do manage to enter, and have a good look at a bookshop, and Amarina marvels at a whole library in a shopping centre! (This place is really big!) The girls have fun riding the escalators… while I worry about people thinking we are country hicks.
We go out at the ground floor and explore the sights of Toowong. We find a cluttered little op-shop at the end of an arcade and find a few bargains. We keep an eye on the time so we can get lunch and be ready to pick Bruce up.
I notice all the ‘beautiful people’ walking around, with glossy hair, elegant clothes and firm figures. I admire their self-confidence and can’t help noticing the vast divide between them and me. This is a different world and I feel a bit lost in it.
We go back into Toowong Village and loiter in the eatery. Jessie is on my hip and wants some food. I look at the menu of a kebab shop and calculate costs. I cast a glance at the crowds who are already having lunch at the tables. I wonder if we should stop here or just pick up something from Woolies. People rush past me, eating on the run, talking on their phones, carrying business papers and briefcases. I feel like I am travelling at normal speed while everyone else is on hyper-speed, programmed for ultimum productivity. Is this really how they exist?
Suddenly, something unusual catches my eye. “Look, Jessie!” I automatically get my toddler’s attention. A man has been rushing past; he is grey-haired and wears a suit. He looks like someone who has worked in the hectic business world for many years. But he notices my gaze and stops. I am instantly grateful.
Cradled in the crook of his arm is a tiny puppy.
“I’m not allowed to have a dog in here. I’m hoping no-one spots me,” he confides.
Jessie and I gently stroke the dog. He is very soft, but he is trembling.
“See, he’s scared of the crowds,” the owner explains. I smile and thank him, and then he is gone, rushing away again, swallowed up by the mass of people.
I turn around and order my lunch.
We sit down and I reflect on the morning. The stress, the fast pace of how things work in the city, holds no attraction for me. I have been there, done that. It is too easy to fall prey to the competitive urges and grow edgy, fighting for survival in business, at school, with friends, at church. I want to be like a simple, humble child.
Children are tuned in to moments of happiness and will not let outside pressures deter them. Time has no relevance for them. They take every opportunity to enjoy life now. This is how it should be.
…This is my ideal and I know it doesn’t really work, even back home in the bush.
But those experiences of getting stuck in the traffic and becoming part of the swirling crowd at the eatery show me that God can still touch people. God still speaks and makes Himself known, in various curious ways. It could be through music. It could be a direct prompting from the Holy Spirit. It could even be through a man with a puppy.
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