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Jesus rode my train with me today

| Friday, March 1, 2019

As a child, Easter was the second-grandest giveaway holiday that uniquely features sugary treats. From a child’s limited, but all-absorbing perspective, Easter is solely about finding eggs, chasing bunnies or brightly dyed chicks (fortunately, PETA has campaigned against this tradition) and counting jellybeans. But as time passes by, we grow to learn that the holiday burdens us with some self-sacrificing Lenten thing that includes a crucifixion and shatters our formerly carefree run-up to Easter. Next week, that “Lenten thing” begins for us to better examine how well we routinely face the angels who may cross our paths daily in our lives.

On any given year as an adult, ironically, Lent can be a personal ferris wheel ride — one year at a heavenly height of awareness and observation, another at the depths of forgetfulness and inattentiveness. While riding the subway train Wednesday, a tattered homeless man hobbled through my subway car and carried a cardboard sign that solicited money. He wore a soiled hooded coat with a torn pocket and stained pants with frayed cuffs. His beard and his hair length just about reached the same point near his armpits. Slung on his back was an army-green duffle bag with “U.S.” stenciled in black lettering. His presence was my personal reminder that I had not yet planned my Lenten season.

As he limped slowly along, I thought of my mother’s passing, which was about to reach its 15th anniversary. I thought of my dog’s three-month anniversary passing last week and what it means to leave this realm. Those sad thoughts led to my wondering, “What the hell am I going to do for Lent?”

In adulthood, we lose much of our youthful and expansive perspective, evolving with a tiny, constrictive perception that can prevent inner love from shining outward at the world. We grow lazy in our outlook. We dream instead of do. Rather than trying, we wish and hope. As time passes by, so does the time we never gave to others. At least at that moment, the Jesus-looking man on my train jarred my senses into thinking that I might once more be considered an abject, dismal failure during Lent.

For now, I still do not have a personal game plan for Lent. Perhaps I will strive to do rather than do without. Perhaps I should acknowledge those that society leaves behind, not just the invisible homeless, but also the everyday people I impersonally pass each day. On the other hand, who needs my acknowledgement more? Should I smile at the lonely middle-class employed person or give a couple dollars to the panhandler on the street? Perhaps I should plan to recognize both. Perhaps I should also work to extend that attitude beyond Lent.

The larger question everyone and I should sometimes ask is how we built such an impersonal shell around ourselves. Granted, our electronic age is much to blame. But how does one consistently maintain a spunky spiritual approach to life? It is sad to think that we can usually gain wisdom as we age, but not necessarily achieve greater spirituality. Why do all of the poets and preachers consistently miss inspiring us to greater heights?

I am reminded of A.E. Housman’s poem “When I Was One-and-Twenty” which can inspire any changing of attitude-type of analogy by looking at our age-related wisdom:

When I was one-and-twenty

    I heard a wise man say,

“Give crowns and pounds and guineas

    But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies

    But keep your fancy free.”

But I was one-and-twenty,

    No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty

    I heard him say again,

“The heart out of the bosom

    Was never given in vain;

’Tis paid with sighs a plenty

    And sold for endless rue.”

And I am two-and-twenty,

    And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

Hopefully, another year of maturing will motivate us all this Lenten season. Certainly, meatless Fridays and denying chocolate consumption qualify as Lenten sacrifices. However, I suggest that it is more difficult to remove oneself from friends to form fellowship with strangers. It is a struggle to look and smile at those who pass by, rather than remaining fixated on a smartphone while passing by.

As the countdown to Lent nears its conclusion, be the soul this year that exudes fellowship with an expansive perception of others. It is a difficult task to ask considering how we live our lives. Outside of religious-affiliated settings, our modern-day society is not conducive to micro-ministering on a personal level. Be the one who embraces the unfamiliar in order to avoid being the one with a small perspective that keeps the love out. Hopefully during that personal struggle, Jesus will hobble his way into your subway car.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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