My Morning Commute

I leave my house at 6 a.m. I have a headache and I feel a bit depressed. As on cue, the catbird on the roof greets me, as she does every day, and in quick succession goes through her entire birdsong repertoire. She recently learned how to imitate a crow. She has been watching them for a while, and now she has mastered the sound. My mood shifts a bit. The bird is reminding me not to take myself too seriously and look around.

I commonly start off my commute with silence—no radio, no tape, just the sounds of the car and my own thoughts. Sometimes I leave the radio off for the entire commute. But today I let in the outside world before I get to the highway. I hear about petty fights between nations and my mind wanders off to the potential consequences of such bickering. Other stories follow. They are all about mistrust, jealousy, and insecurity. I can’t stand it any longer and search for music. Chopin’s Nocturne no. 18. I reflect on a piece in Friends Journal I read, by Dorothy Mack ("On Opening and Closing Meeting: Gathering the Web of the Spirit," FJ June 1999), about opening and closing meeting. She gave me some beautiful imagery to think about creating a safe and sacred space. Not just for meeting for worship. Not just for Sundays.

But also for learning. Her imagery of weaving a web and how she opens and closes meeting leads me to think about how I open my training sessions or courses. I come in long before the participants arrive and arrange and rearrange the room. It’s the weaving of the safe space, a colorful yarn here, a beautiful pattern there. I want people to walk into the room and feel that this is a sacred space where we learn and can explore ourselves for a few weeks or a day.

It is during my morning commute, three times a week, from Boston’s North Shore into the city, that I commune with God and weave the Spirit strands in my life’s basket. Sometimes I feel God’s presence in ways that I can only describe by writing AWE in capital letters. A Presence that takes my breath away or makes me cry. That’s when all the messages come pouring in, from Jesus, from George Fox, from Parker Palmer, from poetry—or just from nowhere recognizable. The traffic forces me to a halt. Something awful has happened farther down the road, I surmise. I feel blessed and I feel pain for the people who have just become another traffic statistic, an announcement on the traffic report. Beethoven’s Romance no. 2. I hum along. The forced halt leads me to consider the little irritations at work, the judgments I have made about people. Where is the love in the space that separates me from those who are the objects of my irritations and judgments? It takes a real effort and I am losing the AWE. "Yes, but. . . ," I reason with myself, placing myself up on the pedestal of righteousness or down as the poor victim. Others will have to change, not me.

I am starting another course in a few weeks. People from faraway countries will come to Boston with great anticipation. I have started to weave this container, this basket that will hold us during our time together. It will be strong and beautiful and awesome. I am the bottom of the basket, an important part of the container. And, in my commute, I weave the bottom first.

One-and-a-half hours later, I arrive at work. There were lots of accidents, little and big irritations, bumps on the road. They gave me time to focus on my weaving task. No interruptions, no phone calls; just me, and God.

Sylvia Vriesendrop

Sylvia Vriesendrop, an organizational psychologist, is a member of North Shore (Mass.) Meeting.