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.

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