What San Francisco Taught Me About Love

This week, I have been in San Francisco with my "new" sister, Katrin. For the last two days it was as a companion, but starting today my role changed to "nursemaid" as she underwent a rather painful surgery.

Before Monday, I knew roughly five things about San Francisco:

  1. It is on the San Andreas fault line, which is the reason it had a humongous earthquake in 1989.
  2. It is on the California Coast.
  3. It has a famous bridge that is destroyed in about half the super-hero and action movies ever made. (The other half target downtown New York City.)
  4. Thanks to The Princess Diaries, I knew it has steep streets and cable cars.
  5. It is said to be a sort of epicentre for the LGBTQ community (and the hippie movement) in the USA.

Thanks to the city bus tours we took all over the city on Tuesday and Wednesday (whose tour guides infotained us non-stop through downtown, around the piers, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the park, and all over the main areas of the city), I could now fill up this post with interesting facts and factoids about this city.

Through the window of the restaurant where we ate lunch on Monday. (Near Pier 39.)

For instance, did you know that:

  • The "Bay Window" is named after the style which permeates the Victorian architecture and (allegedly--but not really) originated here? One tour guide said it was to cut down on the noise of the cable cars screeching. Another declared it was to let in more light since the buildings are packed tightly together (for support during earthquakes) and many of their facades are recessed behind their neighbours. They might both be true. Who knows? (That's the fun of factoids. Where's the Wikipedia reference, darnit?!)
  • Robin Williams got his career started here, selling jokes on the street for 25 cents a piece--and got his big break when he was "discovered" by a local club owner.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge (which has its own website) contains enough cable to wrap around the earth three times.
  • There are more pets than children in San Francisco. And you can pamper your pets with things like doggy massages, pedicures, or even full spa days for top dollar$.
  • You could eat out 3 times a day for over three years and never have to eat at the same restaurant twice. Our car driver this morning said that most people in SF do eat out three times a day and can go their entire lives without cooking a meal! (Which is how over 3,600 restaurants--most of which have amazing food--can survive here.)
  • 90 of those restaurants are Starbucks. And there are only 24 gas stations in a city of 8 million people.

But the one thing which kinda made me go "duh" was who San Francisco was named after--St. Francis of Assissi. There is a beautiful church here named for him, too.

I also had absolutely no idea that San Francisco is a complete tourist trap. It was so fun finding out so much about this city all at once that I kinda wish every city offered guided tours so you could get to know them better. (Although open-topped double-decker buses may not work so well for anything north of, say, Oregon.) San Francisco along the piers kinda makes me imagine what Sylvan Lake (my "tourist trap" hometown) would be like if it had 800 times the population (and number of tourists.)

I was not wrong about it being the kind of community that attracts many people from all walks of life and backgrounds, including its thriving LGBTQ community.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.
— Francis of Assissi

When Katrin asked me to come and help her, I had all kinds of reasons not to go--my daily struggle with grief, the kids starting school, the travelling we had just done (I am a total homebody, after all), and more.

But I felt very clearly that I should go. So here I am.

And I have been kinda wondering why. Why am I the one who is supposed to be here, doing this--helping someone I love dearly do something that actually contributes to, not subtracts from, my grief?

But as we rode around this beautiful city the last few days, encountering many people who are used to people treating them as "less than" (mostly in the service industry), and watching them respond like flowers enlivened by the sun to kindnesses like using their names, smiling, and talking to them, I wondered if "it"--the reason I am here--is just about love.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
— Francis of Assissi

The lobby of our current place of abode, Hotel Triton--the most colourful hotel I have ever stayed at. Isn't it great?

On Wednesday night, I surprised some of Katrin's friends (who embrace a lifestyle that even many "open-minded" people would cock eyebrows at) when they found out that I am a Christian. I think it was not because of how I acted, but because of how I didn't act. Christians are supposed to be known by their love. But all they usually see (and therefore expect to see) is Christians judging them, not caring about them.

This year, with all the deep loss in my life, I have been changing. Loss does that.

I think the most significant changes have to do with how I live out my faith. God has been teaching me that it really is all about love. Since the Bible says that God is love, I guess this shouldn't be much of a surprise. If God lives in my heart, love lives there. If I choose to live my life not loving people, can I really say I've given God a home in my heart?

Tonight, my server bought me my hot chocolate for dessert as a "thank you" for being nice to him. I was grateful and pleased. But also sad.

Christians of San Francisco (and the world): how are you loving your neighbours? Because "being nice" to someone who makes minimum wage and survives off of tips shouldn't be so remarkable that they pay for part of your meal. There are enough of you here (wherever that is for you) to make "being nice" way more normal than that. Neither should it be that people who need to experience love the most are so often rejected by those who supposedly bear Love Incarnate in their hearts.

I think we too often let our own issues get in the way of showing love--but we need to stop it. We need to grow up, put on our "big boy/girl pants", look outside ourselves, and show love to everyone who is put in our paths.

Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love.
— Francis of Assissi

So often we think that it is words as sharp and cold as icicles that will sink the deepest. But really, it is love sown through kindness and respect that opens hearts. (Remember the Aesop's fable of the wind and the sun competing to get the man to remove his coat? That Aesop--he was a smart dude.) And really, that's all we have to do.

No, this isn't the natural reaction--to show respect and kindness to those with whom we disagree, to refuse to repay indifference or rudeness in kind, to make time for someone when our own life is full of things that seem so urgent, or to expend the effort to bring joy to another person whom we may never see again in our lives--we have to fight to do it. Fight our pride, selfishness, and self-centredness to notice those around us and remember that they are fighting their own hard battle--and to give them grace. And love.

How about instead of fighting people in the name of Love, we fight to love people instead? After all, love is about building bridges. Doesn't that make more sense?

What do you think?

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
— Francis of Assissi

Under an arch of the Golden Gate Bridge. (The bridge's name refers to the Bay, the final resting place of scores of ships that transported many hopeful millionaires during the gold rush that took San Francisco from a settlement of 300 to a city of 20,000 in 1849. Which is why it's not actually gold.)

Edit: Click here to see my photo tour of San Francisco:

Love is Gonna Break Through

Words and music by Chris Rice, Christopher M.

Hear a newborn baby cry
Hear the farmers pray for rain
One more soldier gives his life
A homeless man begs for change
But change won't come easily
What does this have to do with me?

And my heart pounds with a thunder
And I stop and wonder
What should we do with life's surprises?
(Everyday the sun rises on us)

Like a swing set in a graveyard
Like a bloom in the desert sands
(Look at my tremblin' hands)

'Cause it hits me like lightning
That love must keep fighting
And somehow, every time

Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through

World inside a clear blue sky
Teeming with humanity
Tears and laughter intertwine
Our comedies and tragedies
And history is a runaway, but not so far
That love can't find and save

And my heart pounds with a thunder
And I stop and wonder
What should we do with life's surprises?
(Everyday the sun rises on us)

Like a swing set in a graveyard
Like a bloom in the desert sands
(Look at my tremblin' hands)

'Cause it hits me like lightning
That love must keep fighting
And somehow, every time

Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through

It takes my breath, it's come to this
We all bleed red, you can't resist
The changing wind, the roaring tide
C'mon, get on the winning side

Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through
Love is gonna break through