My first days in the USA after moving there for an indefinite amount of time to pursue love were spent in Philadelphia. It was a city I knew only a little about but one that in the few months that followed I grew to love. Philadelphia, I learned, was a city devoid of pretence. Its social issues were on full display – poverty, homelessness and racial tensions. Despite its issues, at its heart it had a fighter spirit, an underrated but amazing food scene and a sense of fun.
We arrived in the evening after close to twenty-four hours of flying which meant we could get some sleep right away and our clocks could reset. Matt woke early in the morning to go to his work. I awoke a little later to get some breakfast in the hotel breakfast suite.
The first thing that hit me about the place I was now in was the accent. Colleagues chatted over breakfast about their work projects or talks they were attending at various conferences – their reasons for their travel and stay in this hotel. Work was very different here – that was one thing I was to learn. But that is for a conversation at another time.
I took a decaf ‘americano’ with a dash of milk for the road and headed off for some exploring. I remember it felt to me a little like an alternate universe. I felt a sense of shared history with where I was, but there also were quite a few differences. The history here had veered off in a different direction at a point in time in the past to the history I had absorbed from living in Australia. I remember walking past a grocery shop where the American equivalent of Australia’s “tradie” was making a delivery. Here the “tradie” was of African American descent and cheerfully greeted me with a “hello”.
I tracked across the city. It was March and the air was still frosty. Snow was still piled up on the sidewalks but was now dirty and more ice than powder. The old town was quaint, full of cobblestone streets and well-kept terraced houses. I passed Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell and wandered on to the new part of the downtown – bagel shops, starbucks, universities, parks, art deco bus stops and sky rises were some of the things that popped out at me.
After over an hour of walking I arrived at the heart of the city – the metaphorical heart if not the physical heart – “the rocky steps” (otherwise known as the Philadelphia Art Museum). Tourist buses were arriving at the steps and I watched as a group chatted to one another in what sounded like an eastern European language as the walked up the stairs. Two men from this group put their hands above their heads once they reached the top of the stairs and shouted “Adrian”. Rocky Balboa, I soon learnt, was an almost perfect personification of the heart of this city – a fighter, who against the odds, continues to fight and does not give into despair.
The frosty spring became summer. The parks in the city became greener and squirrels scurried about. We were lucky to be given some more permanent accommodation right in the middle of the city, next to Town Hall and the courts. We had been hotel hopping for weeks and I had found the constant relocating disorientating and exhausting. Children played in fountains outside of our hotel to escape from the humid air.
Matt and I spent time indulging in the food scene. I have fond memories of watermelon beer and white sangria, wholemeal banana pancakes (https://www.eatmarathon.com/) and fancy tacos (https://dostacosphilly.com/). On the weekends we were lucky enough to visit friends living in New York City and Washington DC. We also spent a weekend in Sweden in order for me to renew my visa.
Despite the fact that I was not working and ostensibly did not have many cares I did find this time uncomfortable. I was living in a foreign country with only a tourist visa, discerning marriage while trying to find a job but not knowing in what city that job would be. Matt’s job was based in San Francisco but he was on a project in Philadelphia. So I was applying for work in San Francisco but feeling I was limited in how I could do this.
I was very blessed during this time in that I found people and groups that were very welcoming and held me during this time. The parish we attended was one of the most truly open and loving churches I had been too. This was not one that was self-righteous and proud of its supposed “openness” at the expense of exclusion of those who were more traditional than themselves but a church that was truly humble and sought to give a welcoming home to its members where they could flourish and become more of themselves.
Even the local coffee shop welcomed me in a unique way. I woke one morning bleary eyed and went to my local coffee shop. For a moment I went into auto-pilot and ordered my usual coffee that I would order in Australia – “one skinny flat white please”. This was not met with a questioning look or a pretentious glare but rather an excitement and genuine enthusiasm to meet the challenge of making this exotic brew.
“How much milk would you like in that? Can you show me?”
I tried to keep myself active and busy and build a little routine for my days. I would try to spend at least half the day searching for work. I then would try to attend other activities. I attended yoga and gym classes, visited historical landmarks and spent time in parks and gardens.
These outings would offer reprieve from my mind and body captured by anxiety full of “what ifs” and “uncertainty”. Without a firm foundation I felt I could not make a firm decision about marriage. I was blessed to find a lady with whom I could confide about my doubts and discernment and I spent several afternoons chatting with her about this but also about more general topics of the day.
This great welcome from the city of brotherly love is one that I am grateful for. Although it felt as if I was not achieving much during my stay in this city in the worldly sense a lot was happening under the surface. I was learning that doubt and fear were normal when faced with important life decisions and learning to become more tolerant of uncertainty. I was learning to let go of my identity that was linked with the work I had know for the past five years as well as the city I had lived within for that period.
I was learning how to re-brand myself, about how I fit within the American job market and about the American Katie. I also was learning a lot about American history which I did not know about. I was learning more about trusting the process and learning to let go.
In Philadelphia I learnt to love more. Philadelphia loved me. It accepted me where I was within myself and it did this without pretence.