I never have lived in a place where public transportation was an accessible and reasonable option for travel. Where I grew up, we didn’t have sidewalks either. The only methods of transportation I knew were my family’s mini-van or my trek 820 mountain bike which I only used to ride down the hill I lived on to visit friends (I never was physically blessed with the ability to ride bikes successfully up hills).
Also where I went to college in rural upstate New York, public transportation was nonexistent. The campus was located on its own small hill without any roads traversing the campus, only walking paths to connect all the buildings.
Coming into the Servant Year program, embracing public transportation seemed to be one way to live out the program’s commitment to ‘living simply.’ I began the program living in Germantown, a northwest neighborhood of Philadelphia, and working at a placement in South Philadelphia. What would have been a 21 minute car ride from home to work (according to Google Maps) ended up being around an hour long commute involving two buses and a subway ride. In those days, I was spending about two hours a day just traveling to and from work.
On the positive side my work days were buffered by an hour of time for contemplation, reading, and people watching. For adjusting to the challenges of my placement and the new experience in the city, it was really helpful because it created a space for me that I don’t think I would have made otherwise. I call it a space because it was a time in my day where I was pretty limited in what I could do.
I don’t have a smart phone, so there was no way to pass the time checking my Facebook feed or playing CandyCrush like the majority of SEPTA users. One of those long commutes I experienced a certain kind of peace and freedom that came from knowing there wasn’t much to do, my options were limited, and I was not in control of when I arrived at my destination.
I spent a year traveling the globe prior to Servant Year and really fell in love with the freedom of the travel space. I found I could be in the present moment, rather than overwhelmed by a multitude of distractions or objects for consumption. Purchasing a bus ticket in India became an act of surrendering one’s control and submitting to the perilous manner of driving embraced across the National Highways. Here in Philly I can’t remember how many times I have stood on the corner of Broad and Erie waiting for the H or XH bus to come or how many times I have walked the final ten blocks to my work because the 79 bus never came.
In travel you’re dependent on something outside your control and more often than not it does not conform itself to your desires. Instead of fighting for control, I’ve been learning to embrace the dependency and rest in that still space. On the train or in the bus I’ve tried to find the still space for my mind to rest, and experience the freedom in being limited to my present surroundings.
I’ve always thought about this freedom and surrender like the freedom we have in our relationship with God. We submit to God’s commandments in order to experience the freedom Jesus proclaims in Luke 4 and what Paul touches on in Roman’s 8 as we live out our identity as children of God. True freedom doesn’t come from the absence of rules and isn’t fully experienced without surrender. Does using public transportation help us understand the surrender God asks of us and the freedom Jesus was talking about? Can you really see the connection of submission and freedom from the backseat of SEPTA Bus? Don’t take my word for it. Just buy a token a take a ride.
Nate's Agency Placement is with The Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative.