Dear Sor Juana,
Once more I am spending a lot of time in my familiar precinct in my city of Adelaide. So much of my life has been spent around the edges of Victoria Square in various buildings on Wakefield and Flinders Streets. Laneways, verandahs, park benches, lift wells, stairs, sliding doors, like needles through which strands of my life have been threaded. While some of the locations have had makeovers, there is little they can conceal, and my familiarity with them, and them with me, brings an everyday informal embrace.
I wandered over to one of those buildings this week, sliding a door to find a person not even realising or respecting that a meeting was going on – such had been my practice years before. Fortunately I was greeted with a smile and an invitation to step into the space again. This building has changed over the years, a community room has been added, a few more car parks and its interface with its surroundings has created places for the homeless to seek shelter and impatient civil servants to get to their morning coffee quicker. This building is a church – not my church – a church that holds the name for people like me – Pilgrim.
As a teenager I caught the bus from Pilgrim Church. In my twenties and thirties, I sang there and worked with others from the community on social justice issues primarily around apartheid, peace and anti-racism. I have had many friends over the years for whom Pilgrim was and remains their worshipping community. But it was in my teens that I first began my friendship with this place, on the steps with my fellow travellers on the Bowmans bus to and from my home in the north eastern suburbs. The Lincoln green and dusty gold bus was an insulated community, the bus drivers rosters were more familiar to us than the timetable. We knew them all by name and they knew us. I even babysat for one of them from time to time. Our daily chaperones’ kept us in order and we kept them company. The journey each day to and from school (about 45 minutes each way) was a camino all of its own. We would share stories of what the day might bring in the morning, although the morning commute was a lot quieter than the conversations and debriefs of the day on the way home. Loves were won and lost, homework shared and problems solved together, design and strategy to manage siblings, teachers and parents were mutually exchanged.
The bus was my first experience of community. I learnt what it means to travel and tell stories travelling, to know what it means to start and end a journey, to listen and talk in chapters as sometimes we would have to wait another day (or another week) to hear the next instalment of a tale. I learnt about trust and grew in my own confidence of holding a space and being held by a space. The bus was an incubation chamber and from that place I was able to step into the world where all these buildings around Victoria Square could hold me in all the years to come. The concertina door opening and closing each day and night breathing life into me and squeezing another giggle out of me before heading home. The Bowmans bus, an archer with his arrow, reliably hitting a bullseye into Victoria Square in the morning and at day’s end delivering this pilgrim, with the same precision, to Shepherd Street. Sor Juana, only now do I see the imagery of this bus for this pilgrim.
Bowmans Bus in front of Pilgrim Church – amazing what you can find on line!