I came back from Mennonite Church USA Convention in July feeling challenged and uncomfortable, the kind of feeling that means I need to do something. In Phoenix, I’d prayed about how to respond to a drone center coming to our area. I went to the next protest. Still, I remained uncomfortable.
Then I experienced what turned out to be a blessing, though it didn’t seem so at first. My car was damaged in a parking lot, and the body shop needed it for a few days. My husband and I, both retired, volunteer regularly at different places, all too far to reach on foot. In the Philadelphia area, senior citizens ride trains for eighty-five cents and buses free. I could get where I needed to go without renting a car.
My habit had been to drive anywhere too far to walk, using public transportation only when I couldn’t drive. What an irrational routine: a two-mile exercise walk, a quick stop at home, and a drive to my destination, spewing pollutants into the atmosphere. No wonder I’d felt uncomfortable! When my car returned, I found I couldn’t go back to my old ways. The Holy Spirit has turned my thinking upside down; I now use public transportation whenever possible.
When I drove, my car isolated me. Now, no longer isolated, I relate to others. I’m reducing pollution only a little, but my sense of community is growing a lot. Here are a few illustrations.
After church, I walked to the train. Two teen-aged boys, acting silly, as teens do at times, passed me. At the station I noticed an elderly man with a cane. I began to check email on my phone. A voice said, “Hey, old man, give me all your money, or I’ll beat you up!” I hid my phone away and looked up. Standing by the old man was one of the teens I’d seen. I got my phone out again, thinking of calling 911. Should I try to talk the boy out of it or would that make it worse?
Then the old man spoke, “Where are you going?” The boy answered. The old man said, “Man, you’d better get out of here and cross the tracks.”
“I’ve got time,” the boy laughed. “How’ve you been?”
My heart started beating again; they knew each other. The boy had been joking; as I returned home, I pondered my reactions and assumptions.
Often there are not enough conductors on the trains to punch all the tickets. I don’t want to cheat, so I try to find a conductor on the platform to take my ticket. Once, he refused, saying, “Use it another day.” I responded that with his permission, I guessed I would.
Once, the conductor shortage was potentially more serious. At my stop there was no conductor in sight as I stepped down toward the platform. A blind woman with a dog started up the same stairs. I knew I couldn’t move back in time, so I called out, “I’m coming down.” She backed up. As I walked past her, I said, “It’s clear now.”
A conductor stood motioning for her to move to the next door. She kept walking toward the stairs. “She’s blind,” I told him, “she can’t see you.” He kept gesturing. I called to the woman, “The conductor wants you to move to the next door.” She moved, but not far enough, stopping right in front of the opening between two cars. She lifted her foot to climb onto the first step, but her foot was over the track, which lay a few feet below. Knowing it’s not acceptable to touch a blind person, but afraid she’d fall, I put my hand on her arm. She turned toward me immediately to tell me loudly to stop. My emotions were a jumble. I reacted as I usually do when yelled at, hurting inside, but also felt immensely relieved that she had turned back. Her dog steered her back to the stairs. The conductor no longer gestured as she stepped up. I shed tears of relief as I walked home.
When I was driving most places, I rarely related to anyone on the way. My car isolated me. Now, the trains, the stations, and the buses bring me closer to the people who share this place in which I live. No longer isolated, I see them as the human beings they are, and they see me the same way, picking up my ticket when I’d dropped it, getting up to let me sit down on the bus, and, in one case, asking me if an umbrella on the shelf above me was mine, and when I said it wasn’t, exchanging sympathy for whoever had lost it.
One day, an excited little boy asked his father one question after another about the train, where it went, when it would come, how it stayed on the tracks, what made it move, and so on. He and his family wore Phillies hats or shirts. Someone asked him if he was going to the ball game. He grinned, nodded, and asked if we were going to the game, too. Soon each of us knew the others’ destinations and we all wished each other a safe journey. I expect I was not the only one to board the train with a warm feeling of commonality and a little extra joy.