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 (Manna 22: Indifferent Neighbors)
Seen from a Passing Train
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Seen from a passing train

Julius Tsai [Boston, USA]

A MAGNIFICENT, blue-sky day... I was on a train, wending through the Connecticut woods in fall. Crossing over abridge, the train passed a bayside park, a patch of green by the water. hooked up from my book and out the window as the scene flitted by. An elderly couple was walking, their two dogs cavorting on the grass. I was about to return to my book, when suddenly I saw the woman raise her arm and wave to the train —a wide, sweeping joyful wave. And then we were over the bridge, back in the woods.

I settled back in my seat and thought about what I had just seen. Was it coincidence that I had lifted my eyes to look out at precisely the moment when the woman waved? Have I been hurtling toward this place this time just to receive this message? I knew that the woman could not see into the darkened windows of the train. She would never know that I or anyone else had seen her wave. And if anyone on the train had waved back, it would likewise be hidden from her.

But it was precisely the unacknowledged nature of her wave that was beautiful to me, that in her joy she had sent out her greeting to a world that quite possibly would not respond, and for all she knew, did not respond.

We read that Jesus commanded his disciples to give as they had been given - freely, with no thought of reward. Unfortunately, we live in a time where we have come to expect compensation for everything, payment for our goodness in some form or other. But is life, is heaven, really to be likened to a cosmic bank account, and our only purpose for being here is to pile up spiritual capital? Hopefully not, for then we would be no more than Pavlovian dogs, drooling on command to receive divine bonbons.

Why were we created at all? Why does God love us? We may not know now, but we do know that God indeed does sustain us and love us. Life itself; love, and the hope for things to come — these are our gifts. And if we have been given so much, ought we also not act in the same way towards others? For every time we show even the smallest measure of love for another, we are drawing from that inexhaustible well of divine love to refresh the world.

When I recall the train ride on that day, the woman and her wave still linger there in the sun, a reminder of our common life in a universe where a gesture of love can leap, like a spark, across time, space, and even understanding.

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Author: Julius Tsai