Philosophy on Street Corners

SnowflakeAs I’m sure everyone is perfectly aware, the east coast of the United States has been pummeled with just about every form of precipitation known to man over the past two days.  Finally, the storm has passed us, leaving us just enough time to mentally prepare ourselves for yet another snow storm this weekend.  As for me, Mother Nature has given me just enough time to sneak away to Washington, DC for Valentine’s Day before she foils my plans once again.  I hope to safely in our nation’s capital before the next snow storm strikes, and right now, that means waking up at the crack of dawn to board a Bolt Bus.  Since I am presently arriving at the end of my expedition, it will probably make more sense to start at the beginning.

My adventure actually began two days ago, with a text message.  I had begun the week patiently counting down the days until I would leave for DC, and now it seemed like my plans were for naught.  My bus had been canceled a day in advance because of the anticipated snow storm.  But I would not be so easily defeated, and instead of moping around, I decided to be proactive about the situation.  I booked a Greyhound bus for Wednesday night, hoping to beat out the storm and reach DC before Snow Storm Pax hit.  After work, I hurried home to pack and eat before hopping in the car and heading down to the station.  Everything looked like it would work out.  My ticket was purchased, there had been no email or text message suggesting another cancellation, and I saw not a single snowflake fall from heaven.  I was confident in my success at beating Mother Nature, and in hindsight,  I can recognize my overconfidence.  Mother Nature was not done with me yet.

SnowI reached the station with thirty minutes to spare, and there was not a single person around.  I assumed it was because I was early- most buses tell you to arrive fifteen minutes in advance, so I knew that I was early.  I rested my suitcase against the wall of the station and let my bag drop to my feet as I scanned the area.  About ten minutes later, a young man about my age approached me, asking me if I was waiting for a Greyhound bus.  At this point, it was about 8:30PM, and my bus was scheduled to leave in just fifteen minutes.  I told him that I was, and I asked him if he was headed to DC as well.  He shook his head, explaining that he was going to visit his girlfriend in Boston for the weekend.  I laughed as I told him that I was doing the same, but with my boyfriend in DC.  At this point, as the only two Greyhound travelers, alone on a still, cold winter night in Newark, he and I began to bond.  We discussed our schools, our plans for the weekend, our respective relationships, and our hopes for the future.  The conversation naturally turned to the topic of religion when I informed him that I directed a religious education program while my boyfriend was studying Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America.  Normally, I dread this turn of events- I hate being put on the defensive, and more often than not, when the conversation turns to religion, I often find myself defending anything from Catholicism to general religion to conservatism to traditional family values.  Normally, people take my career and faith as an opportunity to complain about just about anything that they find wrong with any of the above topics.  Needless to say, I generally avoid these conversations at all costs, being introverted and particularly non-confrontational.  Of course, most times escape is not so easy, and I find myself in the heated debate that I had tried to avoid.

CrossWednesday night was different, which was surprising considering what I quickly learned about my companion’s background.  After explaining what my boyfriend was studying, he asked me if it was just my boyfriend that was religious, or myself as well.  I told him that we were both Catholic, and followed up with the most logical question- was he religious at all?  He explained that he had been born and raised Jewish, but that he didn’t exactly know what he believed.  He then asked me how I had come to believe, and so I told my conversation story in its most concise form- I had been raised in a Catholic household that went to Sunday Mass and Catholic school, but had never really discussed religion.  I explained that I had always been a “good Catholic girl”- I had been an altar server, catechism whiz, and generally well-behaved child- but I had never given the faith much thought.  I was more agnostic than anything, though at the time I didn’t know the word for what I believed.  While I never explicitly denied the existence of God, there had definitely been times where I had subscribed to a more deist idea of God, or else I seriously questioned His presence- both in general and in my life.  But questions demand answers, and I eventually came full-circle and found my answers in Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith of my youth.  In the face of the death and destruction in this world, I needed a God of love, and I found Him in Jesus Christ.

MusicMy companion told me that he envied me, and that he hoped that one day he would find the assurance that I had.  He told me that he was presently in the place that I had found myself back in high school, stuck in a limbo of wanting to believe in a God of love, but not being able to bring himself to actually do it.  I told him that he would find his answers, and we switched to more neutral ground- his career hopes.  He told me that he was studying music, and that he hoped to one day travel the world to understand better the music of different cultures.  We began to discuss the significance of music, and we both agreed that music was one of the things that makes us human.  It is in our music, and in our religion, that our humanity shines forth.  The need to find and create beauty, and the need to believe in God, a source of life, truth, goodness, and beauty, are distinctly human.  As such, even as the world might crumble around us, at least these two things (among others) will remain.  He laughed as he told me that even though his friends and family had told him that he was being irresponsible for choosing a “pointless major,” he felt that there was more safety to be found in music than there was in areas like business, law, or even medicine.  Businesses shut down, and employees are laid off, and not all of them are successful in finding another job.  We will always need doctors, but there are only so many positions available.  Only the privileged few manage to become lawyers.  But while doctors, lawyers, and businessmen compete for a handful of positions, every community has a need for music and religion.  While we might not be paid much, and we might go our entire lives without ever having a dime in our savings account, we will always be needed.  Life without God or music isn’t life.  It’s not human.  God has given us life, and He sustains us day by day, and music helps us to live.  To grow.  To reach for God.  Even as businesses and law and medical practices close, there will always be a demand for music and religion.  These are the things that bring us joy, that sustain us when the world seems like it is crumbling around us, when we lose our positions as doctors, lawyers, or businessmen.  God and music help us to live, even when we are just managing to survive.

LightWe might never be rich.  We might never have a retirement fund, or a college fund for our children.  We might live our entire lives from paycheck to paycheck.  But ultimately that doesn’t matter.  We will live, and we will help other people to find life in this culture of death.  We will be happy, and we will bring joy back into this world of despair.  As as my friend said so eloquently, when I die, I know that I will die surrounded by the ones I love, content that I have served my purpose and helped people find the meaning of life.  It won’t matter that I was never rich or famous, that I never got to travel with all the luxuries of the affluent.  It won’t matter that never made a name for myself, that the world will not remember me.  None of that will matter because I found riches in my poverty, and because I not only saw the world, but I helped the world to see itself: to see its potential for beauty and its desire for the divine.  None of that will matter because my name and my life will be passed on through my children and their children, and because I found life and meaning in this world.  It’s a tragedy that so many people die dissatisfied, unhappy, and alone.  If I can avoid that, it will all be worthwhile.

I really do think that my friend was right.  He and I might never be rich, but we will always be happy.  We might spend our entire lives unknown to the world, but that doesn’t mean that our role in it isn’t important.  The world needs music, and it certainly needs God, but it also needs people to bring these things to them.  The world has forgotten what it was meant to be, and so many people spend their entire lives looking for meaning, and never finding it.  They need to be reminded of where they need to look.  They need to be reminded how to live, how to laugh, and how to love.  They need to be reminded how to sing, how to dance, and how to glorify God in our song, in our dance, and in our very bodies.  And that’s why the world needs people like myself and my companion.  Because if we won’t remind the world of what it is, who will?

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