A Subway Morning Prayer

I never thought I’d thank God
For the Subway
New Yorkshire sardine can
Transportation system.
But oh how I miss thee
Even with your delays and
“stopped traffic ahead”,
The subway brings life together
Huddled masses from the cold
Into a new and wonderful collective.

Friends say I am being nostalgic, Lord.
But I know you have given me
A foretaste of the communion of saints.
Where strangers are “dancing like the sun”
to steal a line from Thomas Merton.

Yes, the subway is dirty and crowded.
Yes, the subway can smell weird in places and
The climb up the stairs in winter’ scold months is arduous and slippery.
But I do believe that it is there that I find Jesus, lurking in the small child’s eyes
bundled up with a bear hat and scarf on, holding mommy’s hand…
Albeit too young for motherhood herself.
You are there in the elderly who need a seat
and the young couple so in love that they look forward to the close quarters of their D train car.
You are alive as we travel Lord
In your midst
Strap hanging, pole leading, eating and listening to iPods.
All over the great city
Thank you, Lord. Amen

Why I Miss Public Transportation

Buses and subways offer us a view of human life like none other. If you take public transit places you see amazing things and the social experiment that one can engage in on the subway is amazing. Just getting on the subway in NYC is often a challenge and bodies smash into bodies during the morning and evening rush. Often I’d find flirty women brush their leg against mine to get my attention and then try to chat me up. (I can only imagine what flirty men do). Little kids kick you as they try to jostle to look out the subway window and see where the rats go. Conductors close doors in your face and the dreaded metrocard somedays takes several swipes to work causing you to miss another train.

There are types of people too…some include:

1) Backpack Girl: This is the person who wears a fully stocked backpack, taking up the room of two people on a crowded subway. Take the pack off, moron.

2) Bike guy: So this guy decided to ride his bike to work but then decided to take the bike on the subway. The entire door is taken up by him.

3) Pole Leaner: Nobody else needs to grab onto the pole, so you can lean your entire sweaty back on it. Go right ahead.

4) The Eater: This is the person who eats from the time he or she gets on until they get off. Sometimes eater has something that upsets their tummy and becomes:

5) The vomiter: Vomiter is amazing because many vomiters somehow throw up into a tiny sandwich bag without spilling a drop on the subway floor. The worst is the one who yaks all over and then delays your train.

6) The reader: Always has a book but there is one evil reader known as:

7) I don’t know the art of newspaper folding guy: They spread their arms out wide reading the paper and take up way too much space.

There’s baby stroller mom and going on a school trip class. There’s smelly guy and the sleep leaner (who nods off on your shoulder and sometimes drools). The last-second-run-for-the-door-guy and the door holder are OK in my book.

But the all time worst is “Make-up Woman.” The woman who puts her makeup on during the subway ride even when standing.

And so, I was reminded of this when my friend Michael Azar, offered this tidbit on facebook:

This morning standing on a very crowded express bus, this old princess, says “You need to do a better job of not bumping into me.” I said, “Excuse me, but it’s a very crowded bus and I’m sorry, but I don’t like your choice of words and don’t tell me I need to do a better job!” The people on the bus could not believe what this woman said to me. What a complete moron!

Mike went on to tell us that she was putting on her makeup. Mike probably swerved with the bus and nudged her and made her eyeliner draw a lightning bolt on her eyelid. Or she drew a red mustache on her upper lip with the lipstick. It happens and you deal with it. Accidents are accidents.

My response would have been simple: “Hey lady, how about not putting your makeup on while traveling on a moving bus!? Driver stops short and you’re gonna hurt yourself and everyone else. There’s nothing like getting a big mouthful or eye-full of blush. And by the way, you probably looked better before you put any of that crap on. Now you just look like an old sad clown.”

Ah, makeup lady. The woman who can rifle through her purse and stick her elbow into your ribs 9 thousand times but who can’t seem to find a big silver pole to hold on to! The hairbrush usually comes out next so one ends up with hair and dandruff on their pants because you sat next to this princess.

Now all that being said, I love the subway and public transit in general. It is the great equalizer. Everyone is stuck in the same place with no choice but to simply make the best of it. NYC’s subway (And Chicago’s too!) is by far the best way to get around and this post wouldn’t exist without it. It’s the communion of saints, a wonderful transit system with 6 million flawed individuals, all trying to make their way through the day, each with their own story to tell. Some angry at what lies ahead or behind. Some with infectious enthusiasm and others mired in dark depression.

We are called to each one, to be present and forgiving and welcoming—something that this self-concerned woman forgot. I think my friend, Mike was quite restrained in his reaction and even that wasn’t good enough for Ms. Diva.

Jesus would have been a subway or bus rider. He’d probably have picked his disciples there had he entered out experience in New York City or Chicago C. 2011. Imagine the woman caught in adultery on a subway or asking the woman for a drink of Evian or Poland Springs instead of it coming from a well. What would Jesus say about panhandling or the signs that tell us “If you see something, say something”?

The truth is that we meet one another and we meet the best and worst of who we are on the ride. How are we called to make the ride a bit more enjoyable for others and who provides us with the wake-up call when we are being self-absorbed, forgetting the others around us until they accidentally nudge us causing us to spill our coffee or smudge our lipstick.

Not mentioning any names (cough, Ms. Diva).

Getting in my car now to drive home from Buffalo to Amherst. A rousing 6 minutes. Sigh. I wish I could simply read my way home while smashed into a crowded seat with strangers all about. Or see the business men discuss their deals, or the high powered women execs in their business suits and briefcases talk about whether the men take them seriously. Or the college students talking about their lousy professor or that boy who didn’t call. The soccer moms worrying about pre-school applications, sports fans donning their team colors and theatre crowds making their way to the latest song and dance.

This is us. In all it’s glory. Makeup smudges and bumpy rides and all.

It’s a great time to pray….and so we do.

The Commuters Prayer
by Mike Hayes
Lord, let me be patient with people who are self-absorbed and rude.
Let me reach out to the person who is unclean, as you did and to the person who can’t get their packages through the door.
Let me smile at the little babies, even when they scream bloody murder.
Let me be moved by the throngs of humanity that I meet, knowing their story is also mine.
But most of all Lord, let me come home to you, my source and summit, my terminal and destination. Remind me of your presence among me as I meet you in each person, even those who are foolish and rude.
For this ride is more than a way home, it is a way to encounter you once again in the occupations of my day where you always lurk.
May you guide us safely home this night and every night. Amen.