Recently, I found religion - twice - riding the #2 train en route to Manhattan. The first incident happened on a recent Sunday morning. My sister and brother-in-law had driven from Asheville, North Carolina to visit us for a few days. We were taking the subway to the American Museum of Natural History. It was fairly empty, as it was only 10AM , and let's face it, many New Yorkers sleep in on Sundays. Some who don't can be found in their local houses of worship. For one man, his is the #2 train.
Just a few minutes into the ride, an older man stumbled onto the train, dressed in a torn up suit, and bright blue suede shoes. He strummed a beat up guitar that had only three strings, and that was partially held together with masking tape. As he opened his mouth, we could see that he was missing some teeth and could smell that he'd likely been testing some water that must have turned to wine. He sang an improvised gospel song.
Most of the adults on the train tried not to look directly at him. My five-year-old daughter, along with my niece, and two nephews, simply stared at him, as young kids are apt to do. Then, they started to giggle, not knowing what to make of this man and his songs. He walked the subway car from one end to the other. My daughter asked me why he was singing "Christ is the flavor." And if Christ is a flavor, what flavor is he? No, he's saying, savior, not flavor," I clarified. He then began passing a collection plate. Well, actually, it was a beat up hat. As he moved through the subway car, I whispered to my sister-in-law, "Well, at least you don't have to feel guilty about not attending church this morning. This has to count as some sort of religious experience."
She reached into her pocket and dug up a dollar and change as he walked by us. "God bless you," he said as she handed her money to him. He took it, and stumbled off the subway, as quickly as he'd gotten on board. Our kids asked us a few questions, none of them having to do with religion per se, rather having to do with his general appearance. We did our best to explain, and they dropped the subject. But I thought about how even in this man's state, his belief was sustaining him. That brought me a bit of comfort at that moment.
I was brought up Jewish. I married a Unitarian who was brought up in the South and whose grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. We live in a diverse area of Brooklyn where our daughter has been, and will continue to be, exposed to different religions than her own, and that's fine with me. After all, in the bigger picture of religion, I believe that if more people gained an understanding of the unfamiliar, there might be more religious tolerance in the world.
Just a few days later, I was on the same train on my way to work. Most of the riders were somewhat bleary-eyed, and the car was quiet except for the constant sound of the subway starting and stopping. A very clean-cut white man wearing a polo shirt and small rimmed glasses sat across from me, wedged in-between a young, blond, woman who was wearing a similar outfit to him, and a black man wearing a well-worn, green army jacket, and sporting a grill of gold teeth he was busy picking at. The black guy asked the white guy a question about a subway stop. After responding to him, and then pausing for a moment, the white guy (from here on out, I'll refer to him as "Preacher #1") proceeded to pull a flyer out of a knapsack, and tell the other guy about how they were out doing the work of the Lord, on behalf of the Bay Ridge Baptist Church. He went on to explain further about their cause, and proselytized for a few minutes.
A moment passed in which neither man talked, and then the black guy (from here on out, I'll refer to him as "Preacher #2") pulled a pamphlet out of HIS backpack entitled, "The Beacon," and said, "Have no fear." Preacher #1 appeared a bit surprised. Then Preacher #2 began to proselytize back for a few minutes. The two then talked about God and the adaptations of God, about the book of John, the need to have faith and believe in yourself, and the anti-Christ.
As the train reached the destination of Preacher #2, he thanked Preacher #1, and handed off a copy of "The Beacon." The two shook hands and as the doors closed, I watched Preacher #2 crumple up the church flyer as he walked toward the station exit. I could see this, but Preacher #1 couldn't see it. Two stops later, Preacher #1 exited the train, along with his church posse. After they'd gone, I noticed "The Beacon" pamphlet had been left on his seat.
It was nice to see an open and engaging religious discussion, during the ride. But once the subway doors closed, it was as if their minds had closed a bit as well.
This is an original NYC Moms Blog post. Eden may take the A train for the next few weeks to see what's happening on that line.
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