Monday, June 30, 2014

All I really need to know I learned riding the subway ...

The subway in Philadelphia has been my School of Life.

I've learned more by riding the subway than from the thousands of books I have read, the multiple degrees I have earned, and all the religious communities where I've been a member.

Ten times a week, I ride the subway from the end of my commuter train out to the University where I work. Some, like me, are going to their jobs on campus. Some are coming off third-shift jobs and heading for home. Lots of moms are taking their kids to day-care, before going to work themselves. Older people may be heading out to shop, or to a doctor's appointment. Catholic schoolgirls, in short uniform skirts and knee-socks, are riding reluctantly to school. In the winter, by the time February arrives, everyone looks gray and tired, huddled lumps of misery and winter-weariness in heavy coats and boots. In the summer, the tone is upbeat: lighter, colorful summer clothes and smiles.

And this I have learned: there are all kinds of people. People come in all sizes, complexions, and religions. That Catholic schoolgirl finds an empty seat next to a Muslim woman wearing full burqa.  A Roman Catholic nun finds her seat next to an African American woman dressed in a bright African print. A skinny, sullen teenager sprawls next to a man with a toolbelt and a lunch bucket. A very large woman takes up two seats. A man without legs boards in a wheelchair.  Here's a cyclist, bike and all, standing near (and partially blocking) the subway door. God loves variety, and it's all here, on the subway. All God's children, traveling together.

And I've seen that most people make the right choices, do the right thing, intend only good towards their neighbors. The Catholic schoolgirl gives up her seat when a heavily-pregnant young woman boards. When a young man, apparently homeless, gets on and asks for spare change, the woman in the African print hands him what she has.  The large woman gives up both seats when an older lady with a walker boards the train.

Watching CNN at night, I sometimes question my faith in humanity. Such horror, such pain. On the subway, though, when I lose my balance as the train starts too suddenly, a man reaches out to steady me. You won't see him on the news or in the newspaper. Those small acts of kindness don't make good copy.

Every day, my subway ride restores my faith in people. Don't let CNN convince you otherwise.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The enfolding dark

Canticle 12 in the Book of Common Prayer is called "A Song of Creation." On p. 89, we find the following text:

Glorify the Lord, O nights and days,
O shining light and enfolding dark...

This canticle is my favorite, since it includes the cosmic order, the earth, and earth's peoples.All of these are to glorify the Lord, who made them. It also includes the night, my favorite time.

I admit readily to being a "night person." I awaken reluctantly in the morning, and hit my stride after 9 PM. I'm especially happy out on the porch at night.  When I was a child, we had no air conditioning (yes, it was that long ago!), so our nights were cooled by a huge exhaust fan in the upstairs hallway, which pulled in the cooler outside air through every open window. Many of us have lost that gift of an open window, in our hermetically-sealed, air-cooled homes.

My bed was against the wall, with the foot under my bedroom window. If I lay wrongside-round (with my head at the bed's foot), I could fall asleep to the sounds of a summer night: crickets, a random dog's-bark, the occasional car going by, a freight train rumbling by at a distance, or approaching thunder. If I were wakeful, I could flip over onto my stomach and rest my chin on the windowsill, watching as well as listening. Our street perched on the top of a ridge, giving me a good view of the neighborhood slanting down to the Delaware river. With benefit of moonlight, I had a wonderful view of our street and the mysterious woods at the dead-end -- houses, street and woods all silvered by the light.

I am reading a great book now. The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, by Paul Bogard, is wonderfully written and speaks to my love of night. Except in the remotest spots, we can no longer experience natural darkness as our ancestors did -- we have electrified the night to the extent that we can barely see stars. We are afraid of night, barricading ourselves behind security lights (which really don't enhance our security), and our light pollution is inflicting damage on other creatures with whom we share our ecosystem, especially nocturnal creatures. Pervasive light at night is affecting us, as well: many of us have sleep disorders and disturbed circadian rhythm. We, like other animals, have evolved to function best when day is bright and night is dark. Night has gotten seriously out of whack since the development of public lighting.

Of course, darkness is all relative. My daughter lived in Manhattan for several years, and remarked, every time she came home to the suburbs, that it was "too dark and scary" when she went out at night. In truth, it's not that dark. We can see some stars in suburban New Jersey -- five or ten on a good night. Not so impressive.

I think I have seen darkest night only once. A few years ago, traveling to Canada for a church retreat, our group stopped for the night in central Maine, in a cottage on a lake. Stepping out on the deck, I caught my breath.

The sky seemed alive. I didn't know there were so many stars -- I mean, of course I did, but I had no idea that you could see so many.The black-velvet dome of the sky sparkled with literally thousands of stars. I gazed in awe, and would have stayed out longer had I not been chased inside by mosquitoes.

Let's save the night. It's a magical, spiritual time. Be enfolded by the dark!

And those outside spotlights? Let's turn them off.