A Meditation for All Saints Day
Riding public transportation, I’ve discovered, is a long and tiring ordeal, punctuated by traffic delays and the human and industrial smells that well up from the subway stations. I see old, wrinkled hands clutching bags. Young, badly manicured hands clutching iPhones. Paint-and-concrete-splattered pants, and leopard print jeggings. Socks masking aged feet under orthopedic sandals, or the perfect feet of the young professional, slipping out of flip flops and into stilettos before she disembarks the train.
The metro does not discriminate; everyone, regardless of age or sex or pay grade, is pressed together shoulder-to-shoulder on the trains, struggling with too many bags in the cramped metro cars teeming with body odor and inducing motion sickness. Metro riders tend to adopt a certain stone-faced disconnection as they endure being in close quarters with total strangers; a way of withdrawing inside their shells. Even if you have to stare at your neighbor’s chin six inches from your shoulder, even if your arm cannot help but rub up against someone’s stomach, you need not connect with that person by a word, a glance, or even a nod. Most often, people use their phones like an escape, almost a drug—a way to shut out the surroundings, of looking at something, anything, be it a monotonous game on a cracked screen, rather than look at the tired, messy, unpleasant crowd of people around them.
If there is one thing the metro has taught me, it’s that the world is full—like the Church—of broken human beings. People with insecurities, tempers, passions, frustrations, disappointments, bitternesses. People with guilt, shame, tension, stress. The most polished businessman cannot disconnect himself from his phone and agonizes over the lack of underground reception that temporarily cuts his service; the prettiest young professional still frets with spastic, anxious vanity over the placement of her bangs as she reviews the notes for her presentation. Anyone can harbor ill-tempered frustration, disdain, even anger, that comes out in bursts when even slightly provoked. If I had a nickel for every f-bomb dropped in my hearing as my fellow metro-travelers groan over the lines, the person holding up the door, or the delay on the train, I would be pretty rich. Someone blocks the doors from closing, intentionally or unintentionally, and the air splinters with the angry gazes (and angry words) directed at the offender.
But though the short tempers and discourtesy stem from individual human brokenness, they do not excuse it. They place it in context but cannot explain it away. This reality hits home when one steps off the metro and passes the many homeless people that swarm the metro stations in big cities. One such miserable figure sits along the same stretch of sidewalk every day, talking to herself. She has none of the comparative luxuries the metro riders have. Sometimes she’s angry or sullen, like the people on the metro. But she also occasionally glorifies God, with a passionate intensity that rivals her the bitterness in her lowest moments. “Glory be to your name, O Jesus!” she may loudly exclaim at any moment. Can senseless praise make up for senseless blasphemy? I don’t know. But I wonder, in the end, whether the successful professional who snaps angrily at those around him is faring any better in life than the homeless woman singing praises to God on the street corner.
After all, none but God knows how each of us stands in His reckoning; and his Church, in the end, is very like the metro: full of people from every walk of life, run by imperfect drivers on an unerring track, carrying us as best as possible to the end of our journey. Some are delayed or complain about the fare. Some barely make it before the doors close; others have been waiting for hours for the final trip home. All are imperfect and fallen, human beings broken at the core who can only be healed by the love of the Father.
At one part of my morning and evening journey, the train emerges without warning from an underground tunnel and the passengers are splashed with sudden glories of sunlight. We often blink and turn our eyes from the brightness reflecting from the skies outside the window. All at once, tired faces are bathed in a glorious glow, drooping heads are graced with golden, hazy halos; the polish on shoes and the glitter of jewelry catches and spreads the sunset or sunrise fire until the tiny car is all alight with glory. This, I think, must be something like the Resurrection of the dead at the end of time.
What redemptive graces might be working, unseen, in the hearts of those I pass daily on the metro? I must love each person, no matter how distasteful it may seem at a given moment, no matter how angry or detached or pushy they may be, as a person whom God wishes—longs—to bring into the fullness of His love. Will the faces I see on the metro someday emerge from the subterranean jungle of our lives into the sunrise of Heaven? They’re traveling, like I am, and I must treat them with the same courtesy and love that I would if they lived in my home.
Because, some day, we just might share a home. After all, Heaven is meant to be every man’s final destination.