Public and Private Transit

I generally exercise at the Athletic Centre at the university where I work. I find fitness breaks really need to be convenient, or they are quickly sidelined by this pressing need or that persistent email. Having a gym ready at hand is so very helpful. An added bonus is that my weekday runs are on a treadmill, which I understand to be easier on the knees.

On the weekends, however, I like to do an outside run. It is really a rather different experience in that I use some alternate muscles when running on the ground. Yet other important differences obtain. I have to pay more attention as I run. Traffic patterns, and sidewalk and road hazards warrant attention, as well as the especial need to negotiate people who are travelling in the same direction as me.

Last Saturday I was running down Weber Street, and crossed Franklin, at which point I usually turn left and run a couple of blocks before ducking into a cemetery, a soothing stretch in my run. As I ran toward my intersection, I saw the light go green in my favour, with a walk light to boot. I looked ahead and saw a woman in the right (turning) lane coming toward me. I have learned that you want to ensure you make eye contact in such cases. She saw me, and I kept an eye on her as I sprinted across the street. She glared at me. I suspect it was because I was slowing down her turn. Unfortunately, I understand her impatience. I experience it when I drive.

There is something about getting in a car that ratchets up my hurry-up gene. I have told colleagues that when I drive to work, I arrive with my shoulders tight, my brain a little frazzled, and my blood pressure seemingly raised. But when I catch a ride, take the bus, or walk I arrive relaxed and ready to begin (or end) the day with more equanimity. I experience myself differently in a vehicle. I am often uptight, anxious and impatient – having experienced anything and everything in my way as a hazard and/or an annoyance. In the middle of winter, when I have to wait for pedestrians, I have to remind myself that I am safely ensconced in a few thousand pounds of protection that is temperature controlled, and the poor shmuck on the street is navigating puddles, or snow-banks, or howling winds with a few layers of protection. I have to remind myself that I can afford to take a deep breath and show a little kindness.

There have been news stories this last while about sidewalk-free neighbourhoods protesting the planned implementation of walk-friendly streets. At one level, I can understand this. Walkers can be erratic, and some are even in-your-face bold. But a refusal to address the fact that most of us will one day necessarily need to be able to walk to public transport seems naïve at best, and willfully belligerent at worst. This refusal, at a deeper level, bespeaks a deliberate rejection of empathy; an unwillingness to experience the street in the shoes of people on the street; knowing what it means to be the little guy in the fight.

Drivers, it might be said, are an individual manifestation of the cult of efficiency run amok. The person before me no longer represents a relationship to be negotiated, but a problem to be solved. Of course, I am really transferring my shallowness and impatience onto other drivers, whom I only know from a glance or two (or worse yet from no glances) in my direction. For all I know, their driving might be attributed to a hard hospital visit, or a troubling performance review, or a fight with their partner, etc. But then again, such factors are really an argument in favour of a broader access to public transit – an argument, alas, which may well fall on deaf ears since many of us, I think, prefer the private character of our cars to the “public” of public transit.

I suppose both the private car and the public transit represent seemingly innocent answers to the innocent question: how do we get around? But we cannot afford to ignore that this seemingly benign question is sometimes answered in a malign modality that shape us in ways unaware. At the end of the day, cars more often than not enforce a self-enclosed subject who engages his or her surroundings via the mediating power of a car, while a walker or jogger, or such has a more intimate relationship with her or his environs.

There may be a life lesson in this. I’ll leave that to others, but I want to make the simple observation that no one can opine on this increasing question with impunity. We all have some skin in the game. I, for the sake of the environment – which includes me, look forward to the day when buses and streetcars outnumber cars on our roads. In the interim, I’ll try hard to smile at passing motorists, and patiently wave walkers across the road.

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More Squealing, Please

Yesterday, while walking to church, I passed some gentlemen from the local constabulary, who were on parade patrol.  They were dressed in the requisite neon yellow on black.  The sky was in a bit of a huff, blowing clouds to and fro, and so allowing slivers of sun to shine on my face.  My walk to church is north-westerly and, as you can imagine, more often into the wind than with it.  To this insult is added the injury of an uphill to church, with the result that the trip home is a bit ephemeral: being down hill with the wind to my back and the sun on my face.  All the same, I enjoy the walk to church as much as the walk home – but I digress.

 

Shortly after crossing the paths of Waterloo’s finest, I began to see the participants of the annual Downtown Mudpuppy Chase, with proceeds going to help out KidsAbility.  I had hardly crested the last hill before beginning the flat that precedes the slow climb to downtown proper when out of the corner of my ear I heard a familiar voice.  I glanced over and shouted, “Is that you, L?”  “Yes, I thought that looked like you,” said she, and so we walked together for a time.  The Chase began with a 3K walk for those who benefit from Kidsability’s important work with youth and their supporters.  I had opportunity to meet L’s son, M, who was in a chair and loving the walk.  Mom had a big smile on her face, as did M’s care worker who was out in support of the event.  L and I chatted as we walked, and at one point, M let out a big squeal.  “He loves the wind on his face,” said Mom.  I smiled, and we continued to visit in spite of the hard slug up the last bit of King before it meets Frederick, where I peeled off to the left to make my way to St. Matthews.

 

At church that morning, we were witnesses to the baptism of little H.  She was adorable – all squeaky clean in white and was so very good through all of the baptismal liturgy.  After the baptism proper H let out a squeal that brought forth both laughter, and to my mind, M’s bend into the wind.  I wondered, for a moment, if H was feeling a bit of that Holy Wind herself.  At any rate, these two not-wholly disparate events got me thinking.

 

Why don’t we squeal more?  Where is that primal voice at joy, or astonishment, or satisfaction?  Why is it so carefully filtered out?  Why do we worry so, about being proper when something that is life affirming and death defying catches us unaware?  Why can’t we just let it out?  At least a little?

 

I suppose, in a sense, this is a bit rich coming from me: who tends to conservatism in dress and aspires to propriety in demeanor.  But perhaps this last sentence begs the question: after all, what has dress got to do with it?  And why should we imagine that expressing joy isn’t proper? It seems, in some ways, that our burial of primal speech is an indication of our discomfort with our body.  We hide our skin, we hide our feelings, we hide our voices, our selves.

 

It seems to me that that that itinerant preacher who invited us to become like children if we want to enter the Reign of God was onto something.  Perhaps a little more squealing, and a little less squirming might go a long way to making the world a more hospitable place and so, much more real.

 

Snowing Down

Yesterday my wife announced “ Tomorrow we’re going to buy a snow blower.”

Small things can be bigger than they first appear, and something the size of a snow blower portends even more significant changes than one might imagine. This is clear from the rationale attending this pronouncement: “We aren’t getting any younger.” Of course, this has been true for quite a few years; and so this particular proclamation yesterday meant something more than it has before.

All week long I’ve been whining about a sore shoulder. We have had a few weeks of trying weather. For those familiar with south-western Ontario, this will not come as news. The snow we’ve received over the last few weeks has been unusually dense. Not much air, if any, is found between the needles of the ‘flakes’ in my yard. Shoveling has become a bit more onerous.

I should mention that this isn’t the first time the idea of a snow blower has been broached. Two years ago we had a winter with astounding amounts of snow, and I suggested we might buy a snow blower for my fiftieth birthday, which came and went during a green winter. This year has been a bit different – although most certainly not our worst. Still, my wife sees me shoveling and, I suspect, is mindful of my family’s heart history. A snow blower is as much a preventative caution as a prescriptive cure for the odd ache.

I appreciate my wife’s concern for my health, and suspect that a snow blower might not be a bad idea at all. This, not only because it will hopefully relieve my shoulder of its pain and my wife of my complaints, but also because it will serve as a regular reminder that this journey from cradle to grave has important markers that invite me , invite you to stop and take stock of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. This is never a bad thing.

So, today in church, I will take a moment to give thanks for the many years that have been a rich gift to me. I will take a moment to savor being beside someone whose life intersected mine at just the right time. I will take a moment to ponder how I can live fruitfully into future moments fully alive in each day given me. I hope your day gives you occasion to do what you need to do to pause, to ponder and to anticipate the gifts of life and the gift of new life.