Wednesday, January 08, 2014


I'm grateful for kind neighbors, St. Louis Metro, and working utilities this week--and for all those who work outdoors and in tricky situations, trying to deal with the extremely extreme weather to keep folks safe and the city running. Gloria, one of my bus drivers along the 73, is one of those everyday troopers, and I had the pleasure of riding along with her one morning a while back. I wanted to give just a peek at her typical morning:
"The steps are slippery," Gloria cautions as the bus empties out. "I hope everybody wore their coats—the temperature’s dropping."

After a night of heavy rain and thunder and the previous day’s balmy high near 70 degrees, it’s as though the St. Louis skies are suddenly alert to their seasonal blunder and abruptly switching back to temps more appropriate for the winter morning. By the time we reach the South County Mall on the second loop (Gloria’s third) at 10:23 a.m., it’s definitely winter again. Gloria absorbs the brunt of it, seated directly across from the front door that must open frequently, both to let people on and off and to make it easier to see all necessary angles at certain intersections.

During the South County Mall layover—all of seven minutes—she invites eight people waiting on the Lindbergh bus to come aboard to get warm, and they pile in. While awaiting our 10:30 departure, Gloria adds a layer to her uniform, right there in the aisle, wrangling her trousered legs into what look something like ski pants.

Gloria has been driving Metro buses for almost 21 years. She’s 47 years old, but I would have guessed she was in her thirties. Everyone here seems to know her. When we pass a trash collector, his face brightens and he waves excitedly from across the street. At one of what must be hundreds of stop signs along the route, a passing pedestrian in a yellow sweatshirt and pink pants glances up from the crosswalk, recognizes the bus driver, and blows her a kiss.

Chris tells me the bus is like a club and that Gloria really listens. When his mother died last September, "people on the bus knew," and he was glad to be able to talk about it. At his stop, Gloria tells him to have a good day and try not to work too hard.

"I really do care about what I do," she says. "It is a trying profession, because you're dealing with people, and people have problems. They train us to already know that--that people have issues. I don't take it personally. My mom used to say, 'You never know what's going on in a person's life.' Your job is to say, 'Good morning!'"

Friday, January 03, 2014

Off track

"The truth is, Evie, you are in a dangerous place. You are playing with fire. You are lying on the railroad tracks, by your own choice, and you may like it there and you may feel like that is the place for you, but you are not aware that you are on railroad tracks. You are not aware of the coming train. You don't feel the tracks vibrating. You don't hear the distant whistle of the train. You cannot see the cloud from the coal in the engine off in the distance.

"I am trying to get your attention and help save you. Only a miracle can get you off the tracks. Only God can reach down and pull you from their grip."

It's this memorable metaphor that closes an associate's earnest seven-page plea to me in the fall of 2010, followed by the friendly, handwritten postscript, "Please don't ever hesitate to call me any time [number]. I'd love to hear from you, and please feel free to write back." The young pastor's typed epistle has been sitting in a file folder with other kindly-meant attempts at salvaging this prodigal soul--other items I couldn't quite bring myself to toss.

The sermon-like qualities are striking to me, along with evidence that the correspondent invested much time and energy in crafting the letter and felt deep concern upon learning of my departure from the conservative faith in which we were both raised. "My faith has only grown in my correspondence with you," he writes in an earlier passage. "I've seen more clearly the utter hopelessness, sinfulness, and foolishness of unbelief ... I have spent hours thinking about how I might help you see our good God, hours writing and hours praying for you. But these hours cannot be compared to eternity."

I still feel a kind of guilt for becoming a burden to certain dear people along these lines and imagine ways I could have handled my loss of faith with greater care for others. There are some.

But this train is bound for doubting, this train.

"You said that you are more and more convinced that personal uncertainty about the biggest questions in life is a good trait. So you are becoming certain that it is good not to be certain?

"You would not think it good to be uncertain of whether you had enough credits to graduate, or whether your book was to be published, or whether you had cancer or not, or whether it was raining outside or not ... these are minor things in comparison to the major life and death questions of God and faith and so forth--very important questions that one must have certainty about. They are essential. Where did life come from? Where are we going? What is wrong with the world? What is the solution? Is there a God? What happens after death? It is essential that we understand and know these answers so that we can live."

I, for one, am still relatively stumped on a lot of those questions--even though I'm almost done plowing through Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?(!). (It's a good book, by the way!)

Happy new year, all. I really like trains, by the way.