Train of thought

As many already know, walking and public transport are my thing.

I guess I’ve been regularly catching public transport since I was about five years old. At primary school, it was the ‘green’ bus. Secondary school was the ‘yellow’ bus and occasionally a tram. Many, many, times I have achieved nothing short of heroic bus and tram catches with little regard for life, limb and lung.

All my bus feats have, of course, been completely reliant on a compassionate driver. If the driver wasn’t receptive, that was that.

‘W’ class trams on the other hand were fair game. To jump up to the running board while the tram was moving was particularly exhilarating. Once on board though, fellow commuters had varying responses – bus travellers had a tendency towards resentment as the impromptu stop was an annoying delay. Conversely, tram travellers were quite receptive – no one ever seems to be in a hurry on a tram.

Then there are trains. By far the majority of my public transport to employment has been on trains – from ‘red rattlers’, to the blue ‘Harris’, the silver ‘Hitachi’, the ‘Comengs’ and many more.

In the early 80s I had a particularly memorable experience. It was back when there was a Princes Bridge station, underneath present day Federation Square.

I knew I was running late, I bolted down the ramp and could see an old blue ‘Harris’ train about to take off. There were no barriers then, I charged past the railway employee as the train up ahead began to move. Now I really stepped on the gas as it was starting to move quickly. Fortunately it was a hot day, as commuters tended to leave the doors open when it was warm.

The tail end of the train was about halfway along the platform when I realised I had a problem – somehow I had to jump sideways while I was still running.

Things were really starting to move quickly. I was now sprinting and getting dangerously close to the wire fence at the end of the platform. People in the carriage had begun to look over the top of their newspapers at the entertainment. The last door of the last carriage was all that was left.

All of a sudden I felt a huge hand grab me by the arm and lift and pull me across into the train as if I was a packet of potato crisps. I thanked the huge man as he pulled me in. A bloke sitting down looked at me and said “you idiot”, others in the carriage were smiling, someone applauded.

These days there are automatic closing doors. Last year my daughter started working full-time in a gap-year before starting uni. She walked down the hill and caught the train with me for a while.

One day when we were sitting in the train all in good time, the train doors thumped closed, much to the annoyance of a fellow ‘Hurstbridgian’.  My daughter said something like: “Why am I oddly satisfied when that happens Dad?” The conclusion we drew was something along the lines of feeling deserving if you get up early enough and do the yards. We acknowledged too that there was a certain ‘smugness’ when we had no control of the doors.

As I was sitting in my solitude on the train (writing this), I stopped all my recollection and believed that my mind was becoming ‘still’ and attentive as it was focussing only on the doors of the train.

Attention, according to French philosopher Simone Weil, is the foundation of the spiritual life. It can operate even in the midst of exhausting activity, providing the mind is still. But then I realised there were remnants of an opinion on Asylum Seekers I had read earlier by lawyer and human rights advocate, Julian Burnside concerning the grossly misleading term “border protection”.

It seemed to me that the federal government’s Asylum Seeker Policy is a bit like these rubber edged automatic closing doors.  And, for some, or should I say many, there is also this ‘smugness’ where we have no desire to control the doors and little or no memory of the ‘desperate’ times, when doors may have been held open for us.

I have no doubt that there would be many in the church who would dearly love to be like the man who picked me up and hauled me in like a bag of crisps. Others, I’m not so sure.
A quarter of an hour of attention is worth any quantity of good works. Attention is also related to consent, according to Simone Weil.

There is no such thing as seeking God. There’s availability – and openness towards truth. Abba Sisoes said: “Seek God, but do not seek where God dwells.” We are to look for God not at the end, but in the very middle of the struggle.

Dan Wootton


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