As a young twenty-year-old fresh out of college the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), was my go-to ride. Whether by bus or rapid transit, my typical work route from the city’s north side to downtown was approximately 40 minutes. During my years as a commuter, it wasn’t out the ordinary to encounter drunks, beggars, dirty jokes, fights, thefts, robberies, drug sales, arrests and several dozen claiming to be Christ, Buddha, the Archangel Michael or superhero. I’ve seen bus drivers stop mid-route, leave the bus, get coffee, newspapers, and grab lunch. All the while, riders remained frozen in time and space, on the bus.
By the time I received a living wage, I had an established proof positive test for anyone claiming to be a deity. If (fill in the blank) ______ (God, Deity, Superhero) can fix the CTA ‘s Red Line, said ______ (God, Deity, Superhero) would have established a new church by ride’s end. Thus far, the challenge remains just that – a challenge.
One ride remains memorable.
It was late fall, and the sun began setting early. As usual, riders piled on near downtown, often mashed against one another, holding anything within reach. Rounding a corner near Sheridan Road, the train suddenly stopped and leaned right. The doors suddenly opened and one rider lost his balance and began drifting outward, sixty feet from the ground. Just before becoming flightless, three passengers reached out and pulled the man back.
“Are you all right?” asked a woman.
“Jesus Christ,” replied the man. “Thanks.“
“Damn, that was close,” said another.
“Yeah,” the young man smiled. “I saw an attorney down there holding a business card.“
Laughter swallowed the nearly fatal horror.
“Why me?” muttered the man as the train started.
No one can ascertain why this world is destined for so much pain. At some point in time, all of us will ask, “Why me?” And truthfully, the whole dialogue about Adam and Eve, the great apple (i.e., fruit from the tree of knowledge) seems like a used car salesperson selling an Edsel. God promised a time when ‘evil’ will be defeated. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen today or tomorrow.
Other religions teach that evil is a force outside ourselves which seduces us into sin. This force is sometimes thought to be generated by Satan or various demons. Thus, the faithful are encouraged to seek strength outside themselves to fight evil, by looking to God. I take a more nuanced approach to Buddha’s teaching:
“By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.”
Buddhism teaches us that evil is something we create, not something we are or some outside force that infects.
My ‘why me’ point came after a back injury. Strapped to a body board, I underwent various medical tests, poking, prodding and other indignities of the medical world. Why? In essence, to keep me from having to ask that question for the remainder of life. After a year of therapy, I was able to walk. Eventually, I ran. And now, later in life, I return to pain. The cycle of my life nears its end.
Fortunately, the sum of those I know does not experience trials experienced in my life. Every life has a story receives their form of tests, moments marked by pain, loss, and sorrow. What connects us to god is our humanity. Jesus, suffered, and died. Near death, Jesus offered a question, “My God, my God? Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus question, much like our own, is not a sign of faithlessness. Instead, the problem comes from the soul of humanity. And that humanity is like a version of iMessage.
Working in hospitals, I’ve seen a lifetime of pain. But I’ve seen enough of life to know that where there are scars, there’s love and compassion. It’s the same love and compassion that reached for the man in the rain. It’s the same love of clinicians that restored me.
Nothing in this world brings us closer to ‘why’ – I stopped asking decades ago. Instead, I ask what do I choose to love and how can I positively impact others? Now that I reflect upon it, that might be my own personal ‘why.’
Categories: Life Lessons