I find myself in Pittsburgh again. We set out from the former steel city of Bethlehem and ended up in the former steel city on the other side of the state. I’m not here for the metal, of course, but to visit family. Making our way over the great eroded spine of the ancient Appalachians, I was thinking of how cities often take on the identity of their industries. Pittsburgh and Bethlehem vied with each other for their facility with unyielding iron—one of the technologies so important to human history that we still use the Iron Age as a marker of advancing technology. Pittsburgh’s now a tech city, much reduced in size from its heyday when only fifteen cities in the country were larger. Bethlehem, it seems, is still trying to figure out exactly what it wants to be.
Back in college, I used to work in a church in the south hills. I haven’t been to Windover Hills United Methodist Church since those days. I was weighing my future then, deciding to attend Boston University School of Theology—the seminary the pastor had attended—and exposing myself to liberal thinking rather than more of the conservative milquetoast that was mistaken for milk and honey at Grove City College. The memories that attended the drive were powerful and poignant. I only lived in Pittsburgh two summers—the second working as a bagger at a grocery store (I should’ve known then where a college degree in religious studies might lead, even if summa cum laude). As iron sharpens iron, so the Good Book says.
Recently I tried to recall all the addresses at which I’ve lived. This seems particularly important because many of the buildings no longer stand and I greatly fear being erased. Those of us who write often do. I can recall the cities and even a few of the streets. Numbers often escape me, for they seem to be mere place holders. My days in Pittsburgh were decades ago, when life was really only just beginning. Now I drive these hills with memories my only maps, wondering if I can find the place I’m seeking. This place is part of me, even as Bethlehem is now becoming such a piece. Cities change depending on the laws of supply and demand that can, as we know, even break iron. And those of us who live in such places know that any industry is subject to memory, whether of God or of steel.