I am a curious person. I enjoy getting to know other people and understand something new about my surroundings. While in Rome, I often travel using the Metro and, recently, I started to reflect about my journeys in Metro in relation to the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits; that you can search and find God in all things.
Though, admittedly, my journeys on the Metro don’t make it easy to find God, let alone a sense of humanity.
I go down the stairs and see the train arriving at the station. Instinctively, I run towards the door and get in. I travel alone, and as I catch my breath, I start to look around me.
I hear the various noises. The metal noise of the train’s wheels on the tracks; the music coming from the headphones of the boy next to me; someone whispering; a beggar going around asking for money; the sound of the air rushing in from a half-opened window.
I start to smell the many odours. The nice perfume of a girl as she heads to a party; the smell of the sweat of a bricklayer as he goes back home from work; the smell of beer coming from a half-drunk man who barely manages to stay upright. The air is heavy, and it feels suffocating.
I feel the people brushing against me. On the Metro, personal space is nonexistent: people are packed together not because of friendship or choice, but out of necessity. It seems as though we are sardines in a moving tin box. I feel someone shoulder barging and elbowing me as he pushes me to go out, trampling my foot. Then there is that cold-dirty feeling as I grab on the overhead pole, and the warm hand of someone who apologizes as he too tries to cling to the pole.
I start to look and observe the faces and the movements of these people. I see a girl scrolling through Facebook; a guy who smiles as he receives a message filled with hearts on Whatsapp; the face of a very well dressed and tired woman; a tourist looking at his map.
I said that I am a curious person, and so I also imagine what the people I’m looking at might be thinking. Why are they here? Where do they come from and where are they going? Why does he smile as he looks at his Whatsapp? Who knows what that mother is going through as she is begging for money?
During all this, the feeling I have does not come from my senses, but there is something else. There is a feeling of solitude that grasps me, and not because I travel alone.
I feel I am in a hostile place, and the faces I most often see are tired, or very sad. Why doesn’t anyone speak or smile? It seems as though there is no room for communication, no room for a little joy and fun. Inside of me, I desire to communicate, but I realise that I’m afraid to go against this unwritten rule. My intentions could be misunderstood. I would bother someone.
I do not have the audacity to start a conversation, but I find a bit of courage and try to overcome the shame of looking someone in the eye and, very simply, exchange the eye contact with a smile. Something mysterious happens when we shift our gaze and make eye contact with someone else. It is as though we feel our privacy violated. As if the usual wall of defense of our anonymity begins to crumble. And this can be scary because it exposes us.
So this is my difficulty in finding God on the Metro. He is not a God of solitude, but a God of communication, of joy. But I try to look for him just the same, and keep hope.
In my heart, I pray that God may hear the cry of that beggar, even from the depth of the Metro. I pray to him that he may accompany that girl with the pleasant perfume during her party tonight. I pray that all those who work may receive a fair wage. I pray to him that he may feel the fatigue of that student as he returns home after a day of study, and give him strength.
I pray to God, the Father, to accompany all the people who are traveling and struggling in their lives.
Perhaps my curiosity will not find any answers, and I will never understand why people on the Metro do not look at one another. However, even in a place so cold and full of solitude, where sad and weary faces are the order of the day, I can offer that little flame of hope, in the exchange of a simple smile. I can love others by praying for them. I pray for these people that, most probably, I will never have the opportunity to meet again. And by doing so, I manage to find a certain beauty in each one of them. And I feel more human.
P.S. If you see me on the Metro, be brave … and if we make eye contact, remember: Smile.