When We All Suffer: Lessons learned from commuting on the DC Metro

For the second Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

The rudeness of the people shoving their way around each other, fighting for entry into a Metro car always surprises me. There will another train in 3 minutes during rush hour. Just chill, people! But no…

On one occasion, I stepped back to allow someone to exit. The person right behind me, jabbering away on his cell phone, sensed a gap in the Force and surged around me, not realizing that a person in a wheelchair is trying to get off the train. He stopped abruptly and they did a little shuffle. Left. Right. Left. The man was trapped in the flow, the last person trying to get off as we all waited to get on.

I finally spoke up. “WAIT A MINUTE! Let him off!”

The guy snarled obscenities to me, deliberately kicked the other guy’s wheelchair so that it turned sideways, half on the car and half on the platform, and vaulted over him onto the train. Two of us managed to help him pull free just as the doors closed. Everyone behind me groaned.

“Sir, are you OK?” He looked up, angry.

“I’m fine. Thank you!” He snapped. He wheeled away, yelling for people to move out of his way. I stepped back from the edge of the platform slightly, still guarding my place where the doors would open for the next train.

I looked around at my fellow commuters. Not one would meet my eyes. Everyone was suddenly very busy, scanning their smart phones. Did they not care? Or were they just embarrassed?

The next train came, and since I had not moved, I was in a perfect position to get on the train and find a spot to stand. Shaking my head, I settled into a secure standing position near the front of the car and braced myself for the commute home. Maybe I’d find a seat soon. I slipped automatically into my “Metro zone,” finding my earbuds and being watchful of my setting without staring at anyone. It’s a necessary skill for commuting.

“You know, I think you did the right thing, watching out for that guy,” said the man next to me. I looked up, pausing to stick in my earbuds. The man was about my age and dressed in a well-tailored charcoal grey suit. “People become animals when they think no one knows them.”

We had a short conversation about the inhumanity of the Metro system, and then both of us retreated into our personal electronic devices.

What would it take to change someone’s manners on the Metro? Perhaps having to BE in a wheelchair himself? As I mused, I thought about how often we deliberately ignore or minimize the pain of others.

Sometimes it’s quite deliberate. If I take the time to acknowledge your pain, then I might need to help you. Or listen to you. Or do something about it. And if I don’t I feel guilty.

Other times, it’s because I’m oblivious. I’m wrapped up in my own questions and pondering, and I can literally step right over yours. (Though in the case of the wheelchair-bound Metro commuter, I don’t know what would have made him more noticeable to everyone, besides a klaxon…)

It seems to be our selfish human nature that we respond with a self-centered OUTTA MY WAY! when faced with the obstacles of caring for and dealing with others. Being responsive to others can slow you down. Mess up your “A Game.” Or, in the case of my pushy Metro friend, make you miss a train.

But in these words of Paul, we are shown how when one of us suffers, we all suffer…

I Corinthians 12:12-31

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.

14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.

27 You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. 28 In the church, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues. 29 All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they? 30 All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they? 31 Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.

The theme of humanity’s interconnectedness appears in other places in Scripture (Romans 12:5 and Ephesians 4:25, for starters). It is woven into Christ’s parables and sermons. It is such an important theme that it was among the first Messianic scriptures read by Christ in the synagogue:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As someone who names Christ as my Redeemer, I am called to consider how I will help the poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed. While vocationally I am frequently caring for the sick, where is my compassion when I am out of my chaplain’s garb? Where does the “every-day Deb” see the needy around her? When do I notice and when do I turn my head away? While not every need is mine to cover, I know in my heart when I’ve disengaged because it was not convenient. Or comfortable. Or clean. Or (let’s face it) when no one else would notice if I didn’t help.

Perhaps I also don’t want to get involved because I don’t like the person I see. They do not live as I live, or pray as I pray, or agree with my doctrine/political party/sports team. I might make a petty decision to ignore them just because they are not “like me” enough.

When I DO decide to get involved, it’s not about the guilt. It’s about the grace. The gift of God to us. That’s what motivates, empowers and frees me from my agenda to search out God’s agenda for my day. It’s knowing that I have somehow, despite my own struggles, insecurities and plans, found a way to make the love of God shine like a light in the darkness. Feebly. Painfully. In spite of me. In spite of all of us.

That’s God at work.

‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
Jesus. (Matthew 25)

Son of God
Shaper of the stars
You alone
The dweller of my heart
Mighty King
How beautiful You are, how beautiful

Son of God
The Father’s gift to us
You alone
Were broken on the alter of love
Precious Lamb
Our freedom’s in Your blood, It’s in your blood

Jesus, Oh Holy One
I sing to You
Forgiven
Savior, I’m overcome
With Your great love for me

Son of God
Strenght beyond compare
You alone
The darkness cannot bear
Lord of love
Your kindness draws me near, it draws me

Son of God
Prophecy of old
You alone
Redeemer of my soul
Come again
And lead your people home, come lead us home

You are worthy
You are worthy
You are worthy of all my praise

You are beautiful
You are beautiful
I will lift up my hands and singSon of God
Shaper of the stars
You alone
The dweller of my heart
Mighty King
How beautiful You are, how beautiful

Son of God
The Father’s gift to us
You alone
Were broken on the alter of love
Precious Lamb
Our freedom’s in Your blood, It’s in your blood

Jesus, Oh Holy One
I sing to You
Forgiven
Savior, I’m overcome
With Your great love for me

Son of God
Strenght beyond compare
You alone
The darkness cannot bear
Lord of love
Your kindness draws me near, it draws me

Son of God
Prophecy of old
You alone
Redeemer of my soul
Come again
And lead your people home, come lead us home

You are worthy
You are worthy
You are worthy of all my praise

You are beautiful
You are beautiful
I will lift up my hands and sing.

One thought on “When We All Suffer: Lessons learned from commuting on the DC Metro

  1. This is beautiful, Deb. Thanks so much for this reflection. In the time between calls, I found myself struggling with what does it mean to be a priest without a pulpit or an altar or a congregation. It dawned on me that the essence of priesthood was declaring God’s blessing, assuring people of God’s forgiveness, and pointing to the Holy. All things that didn’t require formal office in the church to do. So freeing. So challenging. Your comments called me back to that identity.

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