A Very Short Story: Mission Dolores, San Francisco

I wait in line at the trendy breakfast place, swaying on my feet, one of many, with people who are in town from Los Angeles and Paris. People with baby strollers. People with neon yellow hair. People commenting on standing for as long as they’re standing, as the line snakes its way around the block. Kids squirm and cry. Nervous moms look up at the clouds, without a plan B. The first place I think to go in the neighborhood is not the Mission itself, but this breakfast place, because that’s what everyone does. Because if you don’t go, you’re missing something. A perfect bite. A thing that cannot be tasted anywhere else.

I finally head to the Mission — the actual Mission — when it’s almost closing time, after I’ve exhausted all my expendable income, curiosity, and energy in the jewelbox-sized neighborhood shops. A fat stack of second-hand books. A black lace dress. I go because there is nowhere else to go, and my visit is the cheapest thing I’ve done all day — $5. The Mission is named, like the city, for St. Francis of Assisi but people call it the Mission Dolores after the nearby creek — the creek of Our Lady of Sorrows. Mary with her heart pierced by seven swords. You won’t see her inside, but you will see the chapel with its whitewashed adobe brick, its neat holy water fonts cut directly into the walls. And the ceiling — all brilliant color, recreated in vegetable dyes in a pattern that would have been known — and created — by the Ohlone tribespeople who lived, and worked, and were converted by, and died within the Mission’s walls. The Mission that stood longer than the cathedral itself, that withstood the earthquake.

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