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Linger in the moment...

Ever since I started going to school in New York City, I've turned into one of those people. I may not live in New York, but I can smell a tourist from a mile a way. I have gotten the hang of the subway to the point where I can give directions. I have also developed the skill of zooming through crowds, stopping only to silently scream (a la Seinfeld's Elaine Benes when she's trapped in a subway) whenever there's people standing in my way dawdling or staring at the latest advertisement for "The Green Lantern." I've turned into a rat race rusher, darting from place to place trying to catch a train home or get to the lab on time. Besides praying the rosary on the train in every morning...there is little about my commute that I actually enjoy. Yet, I still get a little bit of a rush when I beat the clock and actually make it on the train at 6:20 after my subway car rolls into Penn Station at 6:19.

I am somewhat disturbed by how much effort I put into these types of victories. Mind you, I haven't gotten to the point where I throw elderly people out of my way, but I have gotten more comfortable with shoving my way through the crowd. I am afraid of losing more and more of my humanity to this need to get to work on time or my need to get home ASAP. My commuting patience seems to have worsened with each day that's gone by...but it's not gone completely. I have been reading C.S. Lewis off and on during my daily commute and was winding down on "Mere Christianity" today when it happened. All trains in and out of New York appeared to be delayed indefinitely due to some issue with the power.

I was kind of disappointed, but I was not angered as some of my fellow commuters fussed and fumed. It was refreshing to see that I had not yet lost all of my patience and I think my growing trust in God may have played a factor. Therefore, instead of fuming in Penn Station, I tried my luck with Port Authority. I left Penn Station and never really made it to Port Authority. I got sidetracked and found myself following a crowd and considering on seeing a movie or something. As I pondered, I saw that some promotion crew was handing out free ice cream (caramel or chocolate Haagen Dazs...aka...the good stuff). I enjoyed my cone and then had the brilliant idea of heading off to a book store. I have been reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman series this summer and had one book to go...therefore I went to the bookstore, picked up the book, sat down, and read it. I finished the book and headed back to Penn Station where more delays waited for me. Eventually, trains started running and I got on the first one out of NYC. I will spare you all the details, but will say that eventually I ended up taking the bus home.

On the bus, I started getting bothered by all the stops we had to make (people would buzz for a stop barely 20 feet ahead of where the bus had just stopped). I was seated at the front so I got a chance to see everyone that walked by. At one point, a young Latino boy got on. He was dressed up and holding the same diploma every other Jersey kid gets on their 5th grade graduation (the one with a stamped signature from some politician). Then it hit me. This was a huge night for this kid. He had just graduated from elementary school and was on his way to middle school. I remembered my 5th grade graduation and the joy I felt.

The boys parents got on the bus behind him, and the mom held a beautiful...really beautiful baby girl. She must have been less than 1 years old and I could not help but smile and silently say a hello as the parents paid their fare. Her face LIT UP. Her smile was absolutely huge and beautiful. It was the smile of pure joy, a smile so infectious that I found myself smiling for the rest of the night...even though I was at hour 4.5 of my commute at that point. By the time I got to my car, I was near hour 5 of my commute and had just made it to the roof of the parking deck after the sun had set. I was on the phone with my boyfriend at the time, but I could not help but marvel at how BEAUTIFUL the sky looked. The colors ranged from the softest red hues to the most gorgeous blue/greens. It was spectacular that I found myself struggling to make a coherent sentence as I described it to my boyfriend. He must have thought that fatigue was setting in...but I wasn't tired. I was simply appreciating the fact that if it wasn't for all those delays today...I would have missed the beautiful sight.

These two moments will probably stay with me for the rest of my life because they were moments where I truly got a chance to see the beauty that God sees whenever He looks at the world. I know that there's a lot of terrible stuff out there too. I know there is suffering. I know there is despair. I know there is anger. I know there are blasphemies. I know there's a lot out there that would upset God. However, there is still so much of His own love and beauty that can be seen when you take the time to look.

As a child, teenager...and even college student, I looked at a town or city and wondered what the place must have looked like when it was still untouched by human hands. I wondered what types of trees would have grown there and how tall they would have grown. I know what this must sound like, and no I have not watched Pocahontas lately...I just used to appreciate the natural world a lot more. I used to appreciate other people a lot more. New York City's 24/7 rush hour gradually sucked a lot of this appreciation out of me. I have simply lost so much of the appreciation I once had for nature and humankind that I often forget about when I'm rushing from place to place. I'm a biology geek...I am supposed to appreciate nature, ecosystems, plants, and animal a lot more. I am a genetics I should appreciate my fellow human beings a lot more than I do when I am forcing my way through crowds.

It pains me to say this, but I am guilty of overlooking the important things. I've forgotten the value of smiles and sunsets. As cumbersome as today's journey was, I think I needed it. I needed a chance to just stop running and just soak in the wonderful things that this life has to offer. There are so many simple gems out there that go unnoticed. One good example of this is the Meadowlands. I'm not talking about the massive sports stadium. I am talking about the marsh ecosystem that my train goes through each day. Not too many people ever look outside and absorb or even truly notice what they see. In my early commute days (and some rare occasions in the year or so since) I saw so many things that made me simply appreciate God's handiwork. I would rejoice whenever I saw a flock of cranes or a few turtles sunbathing on the rocks or wooden planks. Whenever the train slowed down, I would appreciate the way the sun's rays reflected off of the scintillating water...making it look like stars were dancing on the water. It was almost magical. I even remember one day just looking out the window and marveling at how the tall grasses lining the train path seemed to sway in the breeze.

 I truly feel God's presence during these seemingly insignificant moments (often missed but never forgotten once experienced). It is moments such as the ones I experienced today where I feel as though God is letting me in on a few of His secrets regarding Creation and the love He has always felt for his creations. I share in His joy and I share in His love. Don't get me wrong, these moments are no substitution for my prayer life or some of the powerful experiences I've had during mass and Eucharistic Adoration. However, these small moments are special in their own way.

So why do I forget about all of these things on a day to day basis? Wouldn't my day be a lot more enjoyable if I make sure to set some time aside for these small, special moments? If I love these moments so much, why can't I put in a little more effort in my day to make them happen?

Enter temptation.

Temptation is not always as obvious as seeing an unattended wallet on the ground. It's not always as blatant as anger or lust. We can be tempted by innocuous things like getting to a bus on time if we let this action get in the way of our relationship with God. Even school can be a temptation if we put it before God. Besides praying the rosary, how often have I been putting God before my everyday doubts and worries...before my daily "rat race?" I haven't merely forgot about these special moments. I haven't merely forgot to appreciate God's work and to thank Him for all of it. I have merely let so many other unimportant things come first. I have been tempted to beat everyone else to the good seat on the train. As a result, I have been too tired upon reaching the seat, that I have failed to look out the window and marvel at God's work. I have been tempted to race though the throng of people, without pausing to help someone pick up the change they had just dropped.

I have been tempted by the ticking clock so much that I no longer look out for my fellow man as I attempt to beat the rush hour crowd. As a result, I have become more selfish, more unappreciative, and I have failed to live as one who was made for better things. I have failed to focus on God's gifts, on God's love...on God Himself. I have taken things day by day and lived from one subway victory to another without pausing long enough to consider that there is more to life than a commute. There is more to life than rushing from place to place. There is more to life than the life we have now. There is our spiritual life and our eternal life...and as important as these are...I've put them aside in favor of something so mundane and odious. As a result I have become more grouchy during my commute and have put myself in danger of becoming a worse person in the long run. I cannot afford to slide back to my former self when I have made so much progress improving myself over the years. I cannot become a "cranky commuter" that spends their entire life complaining about work and commuting. There is too much in this world to see, do, and appreciate for me to ever chose a life of monotonous misery.

Do you see how the daily rush can be a it can make a person become selfish and ungrateful? Though my commute lasted 5 hours today, I cannot help but be thankful for it. It has opened my eyes to the person I was becoming and helped me see that there is so much beauty out there if you bother to look. I cannot become a cranky commuter. I must remain a saint-in-training. I must continue to live for God and I must constantly search for Him, even in the most unlikely places. Perhaps I may have to take some lessons from my man Saint Francis...
(Photograph by Loci Lenar

The Canticle of the Sun by Francis of Assisi
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

Pax Vobiscum

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