I was recently on Amtrak going upstate to visit friends, and when I travel by train, I love love love the quiet car. There are lots of times when I’m all about creative chaos, but every once in a while it’s wonderful to enter into some uninterrupted silence. Not every train offers this little moving oasis, but when possible, I always choose to sit there. On this particular trip, it was, and I did. I settled in by a window, turned off my phone, and prepared for two centering hours without conversation or sounds from electronic devices.
The thing about the quiet car is that it only works if everyone buys in. One person who ignores the expectations or doesn’t realize where they’ve landed can disrupt the experience for everyone else. And on this day, a few stops into Westchester County along the Hudson River, two young people got on the train, entered the car and sat a few rows behind me. They were not buying in. At all. Lots of excited chatting and answering of calls, and I could feel the aggravation level from the other passengers starting to rise.
Finally, I saw an older woman get up and make her way over to where the talkers were sitting. She pulled the Quiet Car card from where it was hanging on the ceiling, showed it to them, and in a kind but firm voice said, “You might not be aware, but this is the quiet car. I am sitting here with my grandson, who has Hyperacusis. That’s when normal sounds become really upsetting, even painful. We really need the quiet car. Could you please be quiet?”
Everyone was surprised by this unexpected intervention. To their credit, the young couple apologized, moved seats and silence was restored. The rest of the trip continued without incident, but it was a reminder that we never fully know what is happening in the lives of those around us. What is merely aggravating for one person could be dire for another. Scratch the surface, and most people have surprising stories to share. Our actions can affect people for good and for ill, and often beyond our ability to predict or control.
Maybe that’s why Jesus is so insistent on radical generosity; not just with what we have, but with how we encounter one another and what we assume about those around us. Maybe that’s what He means when He talks about loving others as we love ourselves: acknowledging that the stories we carry have their equivalent in the experiences of our sisters and brothers in Christ.