DC Transportation Woes: An Unlikely, but Valuable, Lesson of Franciscan Spirituality
Editor’s note: DC Service Corps volunteer Bohdan O’Shaughnessy has an unlikely experience of ministry of presence while taking public transportation.
One of the great aspects of living in DC is the accessibility of public transportation. Last Saturday night, after catching up with a close friend from high school who lives in the nearby NoMa neighborhood, all I had to do to get back to Brookland was take the 80 bus to 12th and Perry. However, it turns out that when navigating a new city, it takes a little while to get your bearings. Ten minutes after boarding, now south of Logan Circle, I realized I got on the right bus, but in the wrong direction. When I finally got on the right bus, in the right direction, it was almost 11pm. But that was alright. Equipped with my headphones and a lineup of anticipated songs in my Spotify queue, I was perfectly content tuning out the world.
Earlier this summer I finished reading He Leadeth Me by Father Walter Cizeck. For those who may not know, Cizeck was a priest taken captive by the Soviet Union, spending years imprisoned in isolation and working in prison camps in Siberia. In this powerful book, Cizeck emphasizes how in each moment and situation of our lives, there is a divine purpose. He states, “There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God’s will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it.” A few stops after I got on, a woman boarded the bus carrying an impossibly heavy bag. After helping her to her seat, it was tempting to retreat to my music and unfocused gaze out of the bus window. Instead, I introduced myself, and what followed was a rich conversation that lasted the whole ride home.
We spoke of our families and of our origins. I shared that I was new to DC and have only been here a short while. I asked for recommendations of where to visit, and she commented on her experience with a few of DC’s museums. This led to a discussion of African American history as she shared her opinion of the new African American History Museum. She revealed a deep knowledge, recounting to me the powerful story of Emmet Till.
This woman also inquired about my goals for the future and my position at Christ House serving individuals experiencing homelessness. She shared she had fallen into tough times herself, spending nights sleeping outside. It is in moments such as this where I struggle, grappling with the disparity between the comfort I live in and the deep suffering in my community.
I recognize that I cannot solve the adversity she faces, but I can provide a smile and a listening ear. The other volunteers and I learned in our formation that one of the values of FMS and Franciscan spirituality is the ministry of presence. This was the will of God for me in that moment and in the minor inconvenience of taking the wrong bus. There are many times where I have regrettably failed to engage with our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness for fear of being vulnerable. However, with each interaction like this, with each fostered connection, the simple effort of, “What’s your name? I’m Bo,” becomes a little bit easier.
Question for reflection: Who in your life may benefit from you living out the Franciscan ministry of presence?