Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuning In On TRAX

Through my employer, I get a free pass to ride TRAX (public transportation system in the Salt Lake Valley). In the past I've only used it during inclement weather. However, the past few weeks I have taken advantage of free public transportation in order to both save on gasoline and in an effort to be more environmentally-friendly.

I don't enjoy public transportation both because it takes longer to get places and, more so, because I don't like sharing my ride with many of the individuals who ride public transportation. When I'm on a bus or tram, I mainly just want to relax and read a book or the newspaper. I am not particularly interested in engaging in conversation with anyone, even the interesting ones (of which I haven't found many).

I've freely admitted in my blog that I am not a very social person and generally like to be left alone unless I'm with one or two close friends. This goes double on public transportation.

There are many people who ride public transportation that are socially awkward and, in some cases, downright scary. I find it best not to make eye contact with these individuals. I generally keep my nose in my book and sometimes put on some earphones to discourage people from chatting me up. This may sound extreme and not very nice, but it's how I feel.

Some of the people I've encountered on TRAX have bad etiquette and then there are others that just have social or mental issues, I think. I've encountered belligerent homeless youth; kids playing rap music at full volume with no consideration for their neighbors; people having extremely loud conversations, often with a lot of profanity; the guy who tried to pick a fight with someone who accidentally bumped him, etc. These people I have little patience for.

But there are those that are just socially awkward or, in some cases, mentally-challenged. There was the mentally-challenged man sitting directly behind me who half-sang the same eight bars of music from Murray to Salt Lake, pausing only once to admire a policeman's name tag; there was the socially-awkward woman who was trying to strike up a conversation with anyone who would listen to her; there was a 16 or 17-year-old kid who was probably autistic or had Asbergers Disease, didn't make eye contact and was solely interested in technology (he told me everything a person could possibly want to know about my cellphone - smart kid; just a little different); the guy who kept humming really loudly to himself, etc.

And as I see these individuals, both the one who are purposefully obnoxious and the ones who can be annoying without intending to be, it strikes me that God knows the minds and hearts of each of these people. He knows their specific needs and situations. He knows with a perfect knowledge what each one of them is going through and has gone through. And He loves each one of them as much as He loves you or me. And as this awareness comes over me, I feel bad that I am less willing to get to know my fellow members of the human race.

My initial response when I see someone who is a bit strange or different than what I'm used to is "Please don't talk to me!" and then when they do, my first instinct is to put them off because I feel annoyed. And yet, isn't it our job as members of the human race to try to love and support one another; to try and understand one another? Just because we encounter someone who is seemingly different than us, is that a reason to shun or ignore them? I've written about this theme before, both here and here. Differences can seem frightening or annoying, but sometimes if we open up our eyes and hearts, we can actually learn things from others that seem different to us.

I'm not suggesting we need to engage socio- or psychopaths or every crazy we meet. That might not be advisable. But I do think some of the people I encounter on TRAX are just lonely and yearn for a listening ear. Others are people who have something to teach or offer me if I will only give them a chance to enter my heart.

For example, the autistic kid engaged me in conversation about cell phones and gaming systems (neither of which I was remotely interested in), but there was a sweetness in him that reminded me he is my brother; he is a child of God; and he is just as loved and needed as any of us. He reminded me that we are all members of the human family and we should help each other instead of ignoring each other. While I found his actual conversation boring, I actually desired to know more about him as a person.

We live in this age where we tune each other out with our IPods and earphone and computers and music and cellphones. We don't know our neighbors and don't really desire to. We text or Facebook each other even though we're mere feet away from each other. We don't engage one another. We look the other way when a fellow human being is in need. My adventures on TRAX are trying to teach me to be more receptive to those around me.

This is not easy for me. I like tuning people out. I don't often want to "get to know" my fellow man. But I'm glad public transportation is helping me be a little more open to being more connected with my fellow humans. I still have a long way to go, but I'm trying to work on it.

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