By Trish Johnston
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what silence is, how we experience it and what it means in our lives. We live in a world in which silence is often valued. Most of the time, it's not socially acceptable to talk about, for example, which political candidate we support, or our personal faith, or any current event that’s particularly touchy. Often times, we’re scared to be anything but silent about things like our emotions, our need and our wants. By revealing these to other human beings we show our true selves, and are left vulnerable and exposed, a feeling that we as a culture have come to dread.
I want to tell you about my housemates. We all live together in a big old house in the middle of center city. But we’re more than just housemates. We are attempting to live in “intentional christian community,” which is often hard to explain to people when they ask what that means. Some days I say, “When we moved in together we wrote a covenant of how we committed to live with one another.” or I say, “We’re more like a family than a group of roommates,” But today, I’m going to explain it to you like this: we’ve made a commitment to never be silent with each other.
We’ve promised to never let conflicts fly under the radar. When we have a horrible day, we’ve promised to never answer ‘How Are You?’ with, ‘Good!’. We’ve agreed to little by little, day by day, share our souls, to share what’s being said in our hearts, to speak our own personal truths, at all times.
And let me be the first to say, it is HARD. It's often overwhelming to be consistently aware of what is actually going on inside of you instead of glossing over it all like we are accustomed to doing. It can be exhausting to take on the burden of another human being. It can be scary to expose some of the inner parts of your being that haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time.
But being loud can also be, in a way, freeing. To be able to leave behind the facade you’ve had for so many years, to let it all go, is liberating. We each were fearfully made by God in his image. God made us to be the exact human she intended us to be. And when we can get back to that, or closer to it, we truly let God in.
I’ve found that purposefully and intentionally letting God in, letting her be present as we strip down our walls yields some of the most abundant love I have ever experienced. It’s a love that in the everyday feels ordinary, but when I stop and stare at it for a minute I realize its power. I hear the sound waves it is making in my life.
I’m so grateful. For that love. For this year. For the 6 humans I’m sharing it with.
For the noise.
Trish serves as director of communications for the Seamen's Church Institute.
By Trish Johnston
Ship visiting is something that gets easier as you get into a routine of it: you stop forgetting your TWIC card at the office, you have more confidence driving in a terminal you’ve been at every day this week, you are constantly in the mindset it takes to do your best when you get on board. Some days I struggle with ship visiting for just an afternoon, especially if I haven’t been out on the port in months. Today was one of those days.
We are missing some of our key ship visiting manpower who are attending NAMMA conference happening in Montreal, so I have been on call for ship visiting this week. Mesfin was alone ship visiting today, and is a saint for bearing the brunt of the work. I was assigned only one ship, an extremely light load. Still, coming off two late nights writing a paper for school and with torrential rain in the forecast, I had to psych myself up to get ready to go out. Soon enough though, I knew God had his hand on my day.
I gathered everything I needed to go ship visiting: hard hat, TWIC, safety vest, phone cards, paperwork, pen, lunchbox; and then triple checked that I had the essentials. I headed down Columbus Boulevard, thinking over everything I had to do: both on board and when I got back to the office. It was all a little overwhelming.
No visitor vehicles are allowed to drive onto the pier at Packer Ave, instead we ride a van out to the ship. Most often, the ride is a fairly silent one, the driver focusing on getting where we need to go. Today, I stepped onto the van and the driver got a big smile on his face and said, ‘long time, no see!’ I grinned when I realized he remembered me – and we chatted the whole ride down the pier.
When I got on board I had wonderful conversations with the crew – I heard about a four year old son back in the Philippines, who loves cars. Every other word out his mouth when he skypes with his dad is ‘VROOM VROOM’. I got to see the joy on the face of a seafarer who is signing off in mid-October, he said he is very ready for three or four months at home. I witnessed to the worry of the crew of this ship who is headed from here down to Wilmington, NC, right alongside Hurricane Joaquin. I got to offer the promise that we would all be praying for them.
The visit was soon over and I headed down the gangway to wait for the van to come pick me up. After about 5 minutes, a safety checker in a pickup truck came over and said, ‘Hop in, there’s no reason for you to be waiting around out here,’ so I got a swift ride back to the gate to be on my way.
Despite my slow moving reluctance this morning, today was a holy day of ship visiting. I was reminded of the good nature of all the people that work on our piers. On board, I was reminded of the importance of our work and the ministry of presence we provide. And, it didn’t rain.
Trish serves as Volunteer Coordinator at the Seamen's Church Institute.
By Trish Johnston
Growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, and going to college in rural upstate New York, public transit wasn’t a part of my life until I moved to Philadelphia in August. I made the conscious decision to not bring my car with me to the city as a way to get me out of my comfort zone and really force myself to embrace city living. And so for the past six months, I have spent countless hours on SEPTA buses, trains and trolleys. A lot of people living in Philadelphia hate on SEPTA, but I’ve found that (most of the time) it’s not that bad. Many of the experiences I’ve had on public transit serve as reminder of life’s lessons. They may seem like little things, but you can learn a lot from a simple train ride.
You can roll your eyes and harmph at the guy who brought a full sized boom box onto the train and is playing loud music, or you smile when you look around an realize almost everyone in the car is dancing a little in their seats.
The world around you is what you choose to see, and your day is going to be a whole lot better if you choose to see the happy, the good.
Sometimes the bus driver doesn’t see you standing at the back door of the bus, and to get off at your stop you might need to scream ‘back door!’
Being assertive to get what you need is ok, as long as you’re polite while doing it.
The train is going to come at the same time whether you stand anxiously at the edge of the platform looking for it, or whether you take a minute to sit down on the bench.
Be patient. Trust the journey. God has a plan for you. You can keep yourself up at night worrying or you can sit back, take a breath, and enjoy.
If you see someone with a desperate look on their face running to catch the train you’re already on, you stick your leg out between the closing doors for them, no matter the bruising consequences.
You never know when you may need someone to hold that door for you.
A SEPTA worker lets you on the train for $2.00 instead of $2.25 because you don’t have a quarter on you. A bus driver stops mid-intersection because he sees a kid running to catch up. A group of people helps a mom get her stroller up a flight of stairs. A young man offers an elbow to a woman struggling to step up onto the bus. A guy gets out of his seat for you, not because you’re elderly or pregnant, but because you’re carrying a full bag, a yoga mat, a lunchbox, and are flushed from the trip up the stairs.
Goodness, kindness, and compassion are all around. You just have to take out your headphones, open your eyes, and see it.
Trish serves as Volunteer Coordinator at Seamen's Church Institute (SCI).
By Trish Johnston
The Maritime industry is a unique world of its own. Through working with the Seamen’s Church Institute of Philadelphia and South Jersey over the last two months, I’ve gotten to learn about this world that not many people get to see, or even know exists. 90% of the consumer goods we use each day come to us through international shipping. Take a look around you: your cellphone, the banana you brought with lunch, the chocolate bar sitting in the candy dish. You have all of these things in part thanks to international shipping and, if you’re in the greater Philadelphia region, our port.
SCI is an agency that helps the workers that keep the international shipping industry running. Annually, we see 30,000 seafarers who dock in our terminals from countries all over the world. So far, I have personally met seafarers from the Philippines, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, India, Romania, China, Latvia and Georgia. The ships these seafarers work on are massive floating structures. Two days a week I get the opportunity to actually board huge cargo ships to visit the crew members.
You truly never know what you’re going to get when you head to a terminal for a ship visit. One day I boarded a ship to discover what looked like aliens out of a movie moving slowly down the hall towards me. Turns out it was just the coast guard in full fire-proof gear, doing a drill. One day I boarded my first car ship. Imagine a twelve story parking garage that floats. That’s what this ship was. It even had an elevator on board. But I happened to board during the offload of 1,600 vehicles. Longshoremen board the ship, get in a car, drive it to a lot close by, hop in a van, get driven back up to the ship and do it all over again. It’s chaotic, overwhelming and loud as you’re standing in the hull and it was quite an experience for my first time on the auto ship.
While working for SCI gives me great stories to tell about the Maritime industry, the best stories come from the seafarers we serve. 98% of them are male and usually work a 6-9 month contract, have 3 months of vacation and then are back out at sea. They live a hard life, away from their families for long stretches of time. SCI provides little things like phone cards, transportation, and home cooked meals, to try to make these guys’ lives a little better.
On one of my first days out visiting, the seafarers asked to be taken somewhere they could transfer money. It had already been a stressful day and then we got lost trying to find the Western Union. When we finally arrived, we sat in the van so the seafarers could go inside. It felt like it took them forever to go what they needed to do. My fellow visitor Sharon and I fervently discussed how much gas we were wasting idling outside the shop, how much time we had spent waiting and how many more stops we had left in our day (it was several). We were anxious to get moving so that we could get everything done. In a later conversation with the seafarer I learned that he was wiring money home because his 7 year old daughter was in the hospital and his wife needed money to pay the doctor. He assured me that she was going to be ok, that it was just a high fever and that he was very appreciative of the van ride. It was a nice reminder of how much our work means to the people we serve. It didn’t matter how long we waited or how much gas we burned. We were making a difference for someone who really needed it.
Another day, we got word that a Filipino seafarer who had family in Philadelphia was coming into port in Camden, but lacked the proper visa to get off the ship. We worked with the security of the terminal and family to get them access to the ship. We were able to facilitate a reunion between the seafarer and his sister and nephew. It was the first time they had seen each other in 11 years, since before the sister and her children emigrated to the United States. I was able to be there as they came on board, hugs were exchanged and tears flowed (maybe a few of mine too).
Its experiences like these that make me so grateful that I was placed at SCI. Every day when I hop into the van, I never know what’s waiting for me, every day is an adventure, just the way I like it!
Trish serves as Volunteer Coordinator at Seamen's Church Institute.