What I learned from a month of carlessness
I just bought a car. And yes, though I am learning to love the suburbs, let me tell you: life here is hard without a car. Those four weeks of commuting and running errands and making friends while carless as I settled into my new suburban life brought many challenges, but also such goodness. Here’s what I learned.
It is good to wait.
I spent a good deal of my time waiting at the train station as I made my way to and from my office. While there’s something captivating about the New York subway that always made my wait enjoyable (People-watching! Conversations with tourists! Rats!), the suburbs are less…exotic. And in the early mornings as the sun pierced my eyes, or the early evening as my shoulders sagged, I didn’t always have the best attitude during my wait for the mysteriously timed train arrival. But I can tell you this: waiting is undoubtedly good for me.
It is good not to get what I want right away. It is good to pray the rosary in plain sight of my fellow commuters. It is good to take time at the beginning and end of the day preparing and reflecting, respectively. Patience is a virtue. It is one that I must work hard at acquiring. And when that train shows up many minutes after I expected it to, my natural reaction is to scoff at the injustice of it all. (Isn’t life so unfair?) But to work at submitting that bad attitude in favor of deliberate joy? That’s when I’m being refined. That’s something immediacy doesn’t allow. What a gift.
It is good to be uncomfortable.
Philly in August? It was hot. It was humid. It was not conducive to comfortable speed-walking. And in my mile-long walk to and from the train station each morning and evening, I was often transformed into a sweaty, panting mess desperate for air conditioning that, sorry to say, does not exist in my life here. Accepting discomfort and offering it up is unfortunately not my strong suit. But it is good, I discovered, to be uncomfortable.
We live in a comfort-obsessed society. We like to feel good, we like to relax, we like every little task we do to be as painless as possible, if not nonexistent. Or outsourced. Getting around without a car at my disposal was certainly a chore. But it is also a way of life many do not choose. And I also happen to have a home to come to at night, a roof and a room and a bed to call my own. Food in the fridge. The luxury of a steady income. My life is, in fact, steeped in comfort. And if a few weeks of walking and train-riding help me to develop compassion for those without such basic needs met? I’ll take it.
It is good to ask for help.
I didn’t just get around on foot and by train—I got many rides from many people. At least a dozen kind drivers to be sure. Some spontaneously offered (which was hard to accept, especially at first), and some I asked. And here’s the thing: I do not like asking for help. I do not like being a burden, putting someone out, feeling indebted. And that is just why it was so good for me. What a gift it was to be reminded of my dependence. To witness in such a concrete way the interconnectedness of humanity. One body, many parts, we are. Again and again I swallowed my pride and accepted the kindness of friends old and new. And the swallowing got easier over time.
I see at least two great benefits of this habit of help-seeking: one, it presents others with a chance to be generous; and two, it moves me to be generous in return. To give and to serve and to sacrifice truly is life-giving. As I’ve been the recipient of many a thoughtful ride-giver, I am inspired to return the favor. Not to even the score, not at all—but I desire to be similarly disposed to look for ways to be generous. How good it has been to recognize my need for the charity of others, and how I desire to store up that same charity, ready to give it freely and joyfully whenever I get the chance.
So it is a relief to have a car in my driveway now, ready for commuting and errand-running and exploring. But I also thank God for the weeks of waiting and discomfort and asking for help that He first allowed and then transformed in His wondrous way. If I had it my way, I surely would have nixed the carlessness altogether. But oh, how far above my ways are His. Walks and trains and rides and all.