Each morning I leave my home about six-thirty and arrive at my place of work about eight o'clock. My friends and colleagues commiserate with me because they believe this daily trip is an onerous chore. When I tell them, "But I love the drive," they assume I am putting a good face on a bad matter. How can I tell them that the winding mountain passes, the rocks, the trees, the ever-changing sunrises are sources of inspiration?
I plan the work I am to do that day. More than once a fine solution to a knotty problem has come to me with the pristine morning light. The time of travel is a welcome transitional phase from the security and warmth of home to the challenges of a day in an inner city school. I hope I am bringing with me solutions to the problems of the day.
When the sector of gas rationing or expensive fuel threatens me, I think of the years I spent commuting by train and by bus. Those were good years, too. At the beginning, when the MTA seemed just one great puzzling maze, I depended upon my fellow passengers to assist me, and was never disappointed. On one occasion, one of my students said to me, "Don't worry, Mrs. G., we'll take care of you!" And they did. They escorted me to the subway station where I was to catch the IRT number 5.
I especially loved taking the number 26 bus in the Bronx. Here I was able to see the fabric and the texture of the community I hoped to serve. On one occasion a kind Jamaican gentleman offered me his seat, and explained how he hoped to encourage such courtesies in the young. He deplored what seemed to him the callous nature of the youth today. He wished me well in my work, and encouraged me to set a high standard for the students. I'm not sure I have measured up to his goal, but the conversation with him revitalized my waning zeal.
Occasionally, I would meet parents of the students I taught. I especially enjoyed talking with them in the informal setting of a bus, because there I was on their "turf." Most often, they spoke of their desire that their children should have better lives than themselves. They wanted their children to be disciplined, and to learn skills that would enable them to live happier, more productive lives. These conversations always impressed me as characteristic of good parents everywhere. My own parents expressed such hopes for me, and parents of children in the affluent suburbs usually voice similar hopes for their young. The highest human aspirations have to do with hope for a better tomorrow.
This universal desire for good was especially apparent on one hot, muggy day, when everyone seemed cross and irritable. As I boarded the number 26, it seemed to my jaundiced eye that here was a cross-section of the great untidy masses. There were several "young warriors," three sinister-looking Chinese, an assortment of surly Blacks, some garrulous, aggressive Hispanics, and an old Jewish man and his wife who eyed us all suspiciously. The oppressive heat had intensified until suddenly a brisk wind began to blow, increasing to gale force, driving the rain before it in great horizontal sheets. As I glanced out the window, I saw a young mother and her child nearly swept off their feet, until a sturdy black man aided them, lifting the child into the bus. The "warriors" quickly assisted the driver in closing all the windows. The old Jewish couple offered tissues and candy to the dampened children. The Chinese gentlemen courteously smiled and offered their seats to some late-comers who had to stand. And all of us beamed upon each other. We chatted about the weather, the need for rain, the surprising force of the gale.
Commuting isn't just a means of going from one place to another. Haven't authors and philosophers likened our temporal lives to a journey, and aren't we all wanderers on this space-ship Earth? The joy is in the journey itself. The quality of life is in the willingness to respond to the changing scene in a loving way, and to allow the present to unfold to us the unique glories of each moment.