Tuesday night was graduation night for the ladies at the Holistic Journey program run out of Trinity Church. I was privileged to attend their last meeting. They have met every Tuesday for the last 9 months to learn, eat, share and make art. As we talk about their future plans, they discuss their desire for people to look on Saint John with love. One of their projects has been to take pictures and we are surrounded by various viewpoints of the city, mostly depicting the worst winter we’ve had in decades. But these pictures are beautiful, and made more beautiful in listening to the new found confidence of those looking through the viewfinder. As they share the gifts they have received in the last months, there is a togetherness, a new found beauty that abides in the room.
It makes me think that we are like Saint John, this city that is often devalued. We are in need of those who look at us through the viewfinder and find something likable, something worth capturing, retaining and showing off.
When the cruise ships dock here in the summer and fall, I have heard the locals (as well as myself) wonder why people would travel from around the world to stop in this dingy, economically struggling town. There’s got to be something other than the newly built cruise terminal that captivates. Walking through the streets where previously concealed garbage is now revealed by the melting snow, it’s hard to see. But there are some avid Saint John lovers and I’m quickly joining their cause. There are campaigns and Facebook articles all about how much worthier our city should be in our eyes. There are lists of places to see of restaurants to eat in, of artisans to meet, which give reason to why this is a place to live, love and photograph. But for most of us, our true beauty is not found on the face that we reveal to the world. I find Saint John beautiful in some unexpected moments: when the light at a certain time of day reflects off the brick and sandstone buildings, or the silence of a foggy morning, or watching my Nepalese neighbour gently guiding her walker as she makes her way home.
There is such a desire to be desired. To be valued, to be interesting and attractive and to be deemed of worth. We cry out for our neglected maritime city to be recognized, because we have found something here. But we cry out for ourselves as well. Because we live in this place that is in need of recognition. Every year there is the question of how many cruise ships will come. It is an economical question, but also a question of beauty and worth. And there is always the fear that they will one day stop coming. That those looking through the lenses will not find beauty here. And this fear speaks into our deepest fears. So when a group of women decide to turn the cameras around so that they are the ones taking the snapshots in their lives. They redefine what has worth.
But I still have friends who are left feeling inspected, observed and found lacking. I wish they could know their beauty and their great worth. The cruise ships may not dock near them, but they are what brings value to this city. It may not be obvious at first, but if you pay attention, you’ll see God reflecting himself in them, a reflection that outshines any city scape.
By Jasmine Chandra