By Jo Palmer
The Baltimore Resettlement Center is a yellow building leaning over a street corner on the East Side of the city. The sound of foreign languages, rough translations, and city traffic slosh at the front doors and a constant flow of men and women fill the lobby. Living in South West Baltimore, I take the bus to the Conkling stop every morning. I’ve spelled out a thousand times the benefits and importance of public transportation in every environmental class I’ve ever been in, but I’ve now discovered the benefits are different than the process.
Standing behind lowered pollution levels and standing at a bus stop each morning, hoping the number 10 will arrive and arrive on time are different worlds. My first experience taking the bus to work went like this. I fed my money into the machine and stood to take in the mid-morning crowd. In the midst of “taking it all in,” the bus jolted forward and I was thrown gracelessly into a seat next to an old, toothless man. Fumbling to save face, I told him I liked the wreath of necklaces swallowing his bony chest. He told me they were as phony as he was and that all things were spiritual, even a game of ball. Every ride after brought a new voice to the wake up sounds of Baltimore. An old, tired woman with a low, stumbling murmur, shared her testimony in a wandering chant told more often to herself than a listener. “You have to love yourself,” she said, “Love Him, love yourself, then others. He is the greatest love.. mhmm. He is the greatest love.” Sometimes the homeless loiter at the bus stops and I see them in their suffering and their rejection. Sometimes businesswomen sit next to working men, sometimes children hang off the holding bars and mothers discuss the neighborhood over the heads of wide-eyed babies. Sometimes I sit alone on the bus; sometimes I’m surrounded by faces.
It took a while to realize it, but staring out the window at a withered homeless man with protruding teeth and sagging eyes, I was surprised by God’s whisper, “I made them in my image.” It’s funny how the heart of God is greater than a feeling, it’s a new vision, a new life, new breath in your lungs. I can sit on the bus and know that every walk of life, every season and stage of humanness, brokenness and happiness, is an image of Him. In the variety of suffering, in all that is wrong and sorrowful on my morning ride, at its deepest is God’s voice, beckoning and shaping with a word. Listen diligently enough; you’ll know the echo of His breath, lifting every chest, breathing as one body. He sees each one of us as whole, through all the cobwebs and cracks of hurt, we are one to Him and to Him, each of us is whole and beautiful as His reflection.
As important as public transportation is, the bus system isn’t perfect here. They skip stops, run late, raise fares. People rely on the bus to get to work, but the bus doesn’t always get them there. Like many parts of life, there is imperfection and frustration tied deeply in with its value. But, all things are spiritual if you’re paying attention. An average commute can turn suddenly into an immense testimony to God’s love and presence in the hearts of the disadvantaged and the broken places. Some mornings I ride in silence, some mornings I talk to the person next to me. Every morning God is waiting in the tired eyes at the bus stops, holding to the handrails with every color and size of hand saying, “look, look deeply, I’m am here till the end of time.”