Category Archives: Commute

Global litter…

I had an enlightening conversation this morning with  a Nigerian cab driver who talked about Nigeria prior to discovering its oil, and how oil corrupted his people and his homeland.  He spoke of the hopelessness of his generation and how “Nigerians now litter the world because we have no future in our homeland.”  He described how he’d promised himself that he’d only come to the U.S. for four years, then he would return home–but how much had changed at home in those four years, and how he realized that as much as he missed it, he could never make a life there for a family.  Many of his college mates have been assassinated for trying to evoke positive, moral change on behalf of their country’s poor.  And he expressed disgust at his own betrayal: earning a living dependant upon the very industry which ruined his nation.  He has now been in the U.S. (legitimately) for 34 years.  It was a gut wrenching, heart breaking conversation and tears rolled down his cheeks while he talked.  When I asked how things could change, he sucked air in through his teeth (in that Northern African way…) and said “I believe there is no hope for that land.  To go back and fight the system is certain death. Better to be littered across the globe than to go back.”

I exited the cab sobered, vowing to decrease my dependence upon oil.  But it sobered me in other ways: I was reminded of my own exodus from my native ecclesial land–and how very painful the denominational divorce was for me.  Much like my driver spoke, I’d begun to realize that there was no future for me there–but it never dulled the pain of separation from my ecclesial birth-family.  The nostalgia I’ve felt doesn’t outweigh the gravity of the spiritual danger it imposed–I’m better off having immigrated.  It was a death-dealing situation, and my newly adopted homeland (I immigrated 6 years ago) has been life-giving.

My story isn’t unique and is hardly singular.  Many of the colleagues with whom I went to seminary now minister in other denominations.  And many have cast aside all forms of religiosity in favor of a more benign ‘spirituality’.  We are ecclesial litter, to put it in my driver’s vernacular.  And while we have managed to thrive in other environs, there remains that twinge of homesickness.

Liminality observed…

During 1985 my family served as missionaries in residence at a denominational university in far suburban Chicago while we furloughed from Papua New Guinea.  As part of their ‘deputation’ responsibilities, my parents traveled the U.S. extensively, preaching, telling missionary stories, and raising funds for their next four years of service.  Their itinerancy left my brother and me often fending for ourselves—we were registered at the local high school and charged with the task of continuing our education: I, as a sophomore; my brother, as a junior. My mother reports having been gone 47 out of the 52 weeks that year.

Alone much of the time, my brother and I found ourselves restless—unaccustomed to the stability of a household, the flat lands of the Midwest, the banality of television, and the light work that the American school system demanded.    On weekends, we’d catch a ride to University Park and there embark on a journey to the city via the Metra.  Once in Chicago, we would sightsee and play, but ultimately our destination was the Blue Line of the El—out to O’Hare airport where we’d polish off the evening watching planes take off and land.

Hours were spent speculating from whence folks came, or what their destination might be.  We fantasized about working in such a place where people of all nations and creeds mingled seamlessly.  The airports and the train systems seem like such finely tuned mechanisms—a means out of the Illinois flats and what I remember perceiving as a cultural narrow-mindedness that contradicted the endless horizon.  We were comfortable in the transit systems.  These liminal places marked the threshold between here and there—the in-between space that seemed to be joint possession of both expatriates and natives.

As a commuter in her 40s, the romance of the CTA has worn thin.  It now constitutes a minimum of two hours of my day, and a good 10 percent of my waking week.

Rather than energizing, the crowds often deplete my resources, and I find myself occasionally in need of escape.

And while I can now recite every stop between Noyes Street and Washington and Wells, the unreliability of the schedule and unpredictability of my fellow sojourners marks each excursion as its own venture.

It is both stimulating, and over stimulating.

But old habits die hard, and even in my most exhausted states, I find myself wondering about my companions on the way.  The trains in Chicago, it seems, serve many purposes.  For some, they are merely a means to an end: suburbanite commuters; globetrotting professionals; city-locals who live without the luxury of personal transportation—all setting about their daily tasks, etc.  For others, however, the journey appears to be an end in itself: transients seeking warmth ride the trains in endless circles during the winter months, and in the summers find comfort in its air conditioning; a child exclaiming in delight as she kneels backwards in her seat, peers expectantly out the window at the passing landscape; tourists looking for the ultimate ‘Chicago’ experience, board the ‘El’ for the sole purpose of bragging rights.  What is perhaps most fascinating about these is the differing perceptions of teleology and their subsequent ecbatic interactions that such liminal space creates.