A Commute Towards Happiness

by | Dec 16, 2020

My commute from the MetroWest suburbs to Casserly House starts with a 6:45am commuter train from Concord to North Station, then an Orange Line subway to Forest Hills, then a bus to Stellman Road. As a semi-retired Ignatian Volunteer Corps member, I think to myself, “Why do I feel so much happier than my fellow commuters?”

Sister Nancy greets me with “Are you up for teaching a class this morning?” or “I’ve got a new one for you to register. Let me know whether you think we should take her.” I never know what awaits me, but that is part of the appeal. Refugees and immigrants also never know what awaits them. I am one of them!

As adult ESOL students start to arrive, I gather a few around a table and we engage in casual conversation and vocabulary building. We might talk about what each of us did over the weekend or what we ate. I learn that Haitian soup frequently includes bananas.

I meet one-on-one with adults, walking through the immigration maze with them, listening to them and counseling them in whatever way I can. I marvel at the resilience I see in these suffering people, how they can cope with tragedy, torture, loss, poverty, and discrimination. And I wonder, “How can these people still smile?”

The day continues with lunch at noon, and I break out the yogurt and granola bar and enjoy discussions with Sister Nancy and Amanda (JVC) about social justice, Ignatian spirituality, and Boston’s unique quirks. Drop-in visitors at lunch are always welcome.

My after-school tutoring is frequently a lesson in humility. A child once admonished me “Jim, this is second-grade math; you’re supposed to know this stuff!” Rather than worrying about my tutoring skills, I tell myself to try to be that loving father or grandfather the children have not experienced.

As I do the reverse-commute back to the suburbs, I reflect on my experiences and say a little prayer for the suffering. I saw God’s love for the poor and felt His presence among them. Yes, I know I am so much happier than my fellow commuters!