Psalm 139:24 “See if there be any wicked way in me.”
Socrates tells us that an unexamined life is not worth living. Probably I have to agree with that, but an examined life sure is tiring. Take yesterday, for instance. By the time I got to the train on my two hour commute home, I was tired. I walked the extra distance to one of the last cars on the train, which is less crowded and has a better chance of me keeping a seat to myself for the ride. It was a good day. There were only 10-12 people in the entire car with many, many empty seats of all sizes, even the ones with tables.
And then she got on. An older woman, made up to look like she wasn’t, she walked through the car with a bit of hesitation. And then she sat down. With me! She picked up a paper from the floor and began to read it. My whole body tightened up. The unwritten law of the commuter rail is that you fill all the empty seats before you sit with someone else. I’m not the only one by far who wants to spread out and zone out after a day at the office. But here was this woman, with more seats empty than full, invading my space. Only cute puppies, long-lost friends, or Viggo Mortensen are welcome under such circumstances.
And then the bit about the examined/unexamined life kicked in. What was my problem? She never said a word. She wasn’t leaning over and drooling on my book. The seat wasn’t even particularly small. It was designed to seat three. But I rankled. Why?
Something about her was not quite right, and I thought of my own mother in the early stages of her Alzheimer’s Disease. If my mother were on a train back then, wouldn’t I want her seated with someone who could help her out if she had a problem? Well, of course I would. My heart softened and I decided to be a protector of this vulnerable woman in a scary place who needed to sit with another human being. That lasted about 47 seconds.
Then I was even more troubled that not even thoughts of my sainted mother’s plight could undo my agitation at something as small as having someone sit in my seat on the train. I thought of other times when I was not troubled by someone on the train starting a conversation or sharing my space. What was my problem?
The ticket taker came by and the woman scrambled for the right change. A couple of stops down the line and she suddenly leapt to her feet, clutching her purse and heading for the doors well before the train stopped. All the signs of a troubled soul.
I continued to ponder my reaction for the rest of the trip, and what I came to was an issue of responsibility. Her behavior was not normal. She had issues. I was not troubled so much by the invasion of my personal space as I was by the thought that the minute I thought I was “off” from work or even the responsibility of driving, someone with needs was too close for me to ignore. I was the one with issues.
She brought up my discomfort in passing the homeless folks on my way to and from the office each day who make me confront all that is ugly in my soul. She made me realize (again) that I want to plan out who I help and where and when so that I am not inconvenienced by their need. If that woman needed anything from me, she did not ask. I didn’t have to help her find her way home or call 911 or even respond to a single word. And I am the poorer for it.
Create in me a pure heart, O God. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen.
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