I have lived most of my life in small town Virginia and have taken public transportation only a handful of times in my life, and almost certainly never alone. After living in DC these past few months, I soon learned that this was the most convenient way for me to travel. In fact, there was no other way to get around, and it made me a bit nervous.
On the first day of my commute, I wandered out of the metro station looking for my bus stop. I quickly realized this was my first time in DC interacting with a neighborhood where most of the people I saw did not look like me. I finally reached my bus stop where I waited ten or so minutes with a few older men before the bus arrived.
For the first few weeks, I was very cautious in this new neighborhood. I tried to stick to myself by keeping a few feet away from others while waiting for my bus or wandering around CVS so I could avoid interacting with people. I didn’t know anyone, and I felt a bit alien considering most of the people I was around were local, of different races, of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and had different life experiences from myself. I decided that because I was different, I should do my best to keep my distance and keep a low profile.
It wasn’t until a few weeks of doing the same routine that I felt a change. On an unusually windy February morning, the bus finally arrived – fifteen minutes late. As the bus neared our stop, everyone waiting started forming a line to get on. I was towards the back of the line, maintaining the distance I thought appropriate as an “outsider”, when one of the older men also waiting called out to me and motioned for me to get on the bus before him. This small gesture took me by surprise. I stared at him for a second, confused, because I was used to waiting my turn or trying to push into a stuffed car with too many people. I wandered up to the front of the group, made eye contact with him, thanked him as I boarded the bus. While sitting on the bus, I reflected on this small kindness the man had shown me. I had seen a glimpse of God’s love in a modest deed. I decided that from that moment that I would try and engage more actively with those I interacted with during my commute.
What I found was that many people I interacted with during my commute showed kindness and love in ways similar to the man from the bus stop. At least once or twice a week, other older men from the bus stop would usher me get on the bus before them. Then, I discovered a Dunkin’ Donuts along the route that I enjoyed once a week thanks to that blueberry glazed donut and the cheeriest singing by a talented Dunkin’ employee. I also developed a friendship with one of the bus drivers. He started my bus ride with a bright smile and ended it with a honk and wave goodbye. As the weeks wore on, I realized that some of these interactions around my bus stop were the highlight of my day. I began to look forward to getting off the metro and interacting with people in the community through God’s grace.
During my last few days of being in DC, I realized something. I found respect, kindness, and commonality with a community that I thought was very different. While this is an experience that I will reflect on for the rest of my life, I believe it is also an example of how both God and interfaith community function. In today’s world, it is far too easy to get caught up in feeling like an “outsider” when interacting with those of other faiths or of no faith. It is easy to feel as though there are too many differences or that it is simply safer to stay close to what is familiar. My experience this spring has shown me otherwise. In fact, I would say that in our travels through life, God wants us to grow together with all people.
–Hannah Smith, IFC 2020 intern