Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Wheels on the Bus

I ride the bus to work. I take the 8:27 to Watertown each weekday morning. The 70 route is one of the busier commuter routes, and it's usually crowded. All manner of random, chaotic happenings slow the bus down, like construction, bad weather, and crazy pedestrians who do don't use crosswalks. And the people on the bus range from friends and coworkers to loudmouths yakking on their cell phones in other languages, people with stinky food or stinky clothes, people whose profane music is far too loud, disabled people, and even homeless people. It's a pre-coffee menagerie. From time to time, I have been known to feel annoyed at teenagers and senior citizens, who don't have to get to work on time. They can just take the bus in another 20 or 30 minutes and be out of the way of suit-wearers. Sometimes I think, "I just want to get to work, people."

One day last spring was particularly crazy. It was raining, and the bus windows were steamy so that I couldn't see in, and the people inside couldn't see me. I got on and sank down into the last seat left. The bus is always late when it's raining, and that day was no exception. I tried to breathe and read from my devotional book on the way. When the bus reached the first large intersection after my stop, one of the people boarding the bus tried to load his bike into the front bike rack. The bus driver began to yell at the man, saying, "You're not getting on my bus!" She got off and tried to make him take his bike off the rack. He yelled back. She stormed back into the bus, closed the door, and put on the parking brake. Then she called the transit police, telling the person on the other end of the radio that she felt threatened by him, and that he had provoked her before. The whole thing took 15 minutes, and the 8:37 bus had just passed us. After a week of construction and bad weather, that was the icing on the cake. I muttered, "This bus route is bull." The bus driver heard me, disengaged the parking brake with a clang, and screeched through the intersection. I watched the man, standing in the rain, become a smaller and smaller dark spot as we roared away.

Since then, I've seen that man on the bus many times. He always has his bike. He has curly hair and paint-stained clothes. He speaks Spanish as well as English. He's outgoing and sometimes has an attitude. But he's polite and always offers me a seat if one opens up. More recently, I went into work on Labor Day. It was crowded again- the bus only comes once an hour on Federal holidays. I sat in one of the seats along the side of the bus that faces inward. The man boarded the bus at his usual stop. He stood directly in front of me and held onto the bar over my head. There were his paint-stained clothes, the baggy jeans and the old t-shirt. Around his neck, he wore the Ecclesia cross. It, too, was spattered with paint.

As I've mentioned before, the Ecclesia cross is a gift that can only be received by a member of  Ecclesia Ministries or the Cambridge Outdoor Church. Members of the community are homeless, have been homeless, or pastors to those who are homeless. It's the same cross I wear when I give out sandwiches once a month in Central Square. My sleepy-headed thoughts were arrested.

I had been so angry at him for disturbing my commute and filling the bus with his loud Spanish, with tiny syllables that flew out of his mouth like bullets from a machine gun. I had narrowed my eyes more than once when he entered the bus. And now I realized: he and I are connected. We are part of an extended community. If he is not homeless now, he used to be homeless, and Ecclesia Ministries has probably been a powerful part of his life. In that moment, it dawned on me that his clothes were not dirty and covered in paint because he's a sloppy bum. It's probably because he's a house painter, trying to earn a living on low-wage work.

I wanted to introduce myself. I wanted to tell him that I am part of the web of relationships that is Ecclesia and the Outdoor Church, and to express goodwill. But I couldn't, not after I had quietly resented him for almost six months. Sure, this man had inconvenienced me multiple times on my commute. Being annoyed is one thing, though, and sitting there glowering is quite another. I quickly realized that I had been un-Christian. I took the side of the bus driver on that rainy day, despite the fact that I do not know his name and I've never spoken to him. He has no idea that I resented him for six months and he has no idea who I am. But God knows how I felt. God knows that I sinned in my heart against a man who's probably had more than a few hard knocks in his life. I ought to be ashamed of myself, and I am. The person I hurt when I committed the sin of resentment was myself.

Our God is a God of second chances, however, and God has given me the chance to turn all of this around. I've actively tried to be more patient with the crazy menagerie with whom I ride the bus each morning and evening. That's about all I can do. The damage that was done was to my heart. I can only pray for mercy, try to love others more, and ask the Holy Spirit to heal me. So I do.

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