It is a provocative image, but it is also a very good book. In fact it is one of the books I like most of all. A collection of essays by the physician/philosopher/novelist Walker Percy, he argued in many different ways that our lives can be signposts in a strange land. Never intellectually or morally cheap, he asked the hardest questions about life in and through his literature, the stories that introduced us to such heart-pondering images as, “It is possible to get all A’s and still flunk life” and “Bad books always lie—they lie most of all about the human condition.”
I thought of this a few days ago, reading an article in the Urban Turf, Washington DC’s Real Estate Guide. My son Elliott who lives in Sicily but who with his wife Becca has a condo on Capitol Hill, keeps up on a lot, and saw his younger brother David’s name in a piece about Anacostia.
In a part of the city that is both known for its surprising history and beauty, and for its political pathology, he has become friends with a generation of people there who care about the neighborhood, yearning for what might be. Some years ago he initiated a blog that he called “Anacostia Now: Just You Wait and See,” and got involved in many different ways with many good people who together are working to bring renewal to where they live and move and have their being. (His own life now straddles the Anacostia River, working on one side, and living and serving as ANC commissioner on the other.)
The article, “A $50,000 Rowhouse, Transformed,” is the story of a woman who longed to live somewhere, to buy into a neighborhood and settle down—but was frustrated by the high prices of housing in other parts of the city. And she read of David’s hopes for Anacostia, and of his efforts to try again by rehabbing abandoned properties. (The longer story has been told in various places, and you can Google around for that.) She bought a left-behind house, and has made it new, and her home.
As I read, I thought of being signposts in a strange land, a vocation that calls every one of us. That David has lived into that as he has makes me smile.