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An Ecological Change of Heart, 3

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20 September 2012 2 Comments

Unofficial Earth Day Flag

In my last post I wrote about a decision that I made to fast from car commuting for 1 year. The idea was the brain child of my colleague Jay Leighter, who is podcasting and blogging about it on his website, The Crux. I’m doing it with him.

Even though the official start date of the challenge was September 1, I actually began leaving the car home on August 20th, so I’m now in my fifth week. So far it has not been as difficult as I feared it would be, in fact, it has not really been difficult at all. There is something about having made the decision “I will not drive” that makes it easier to get on the bike or walk the mile to the bus. In the past when I have tried to do this, I was making a daily decision about driving or not. The car almost always won. Human brains are odd that way. Or maybe I’m odd that way. I need to be all in or it does not work.

One of the big surprises for me has come from riding the bus. In Omaha the vast majority of the people who ride the bus are lower income, and the bus I ride goes through the poorest part of the city. So, because I am now riding the bus for about half of my commutes, I am having much more contact with the poor. I am seeing, really for the first time, a side of Omaha’s population that I have never seen in quite this way before.

It’s not that I did not know about poverty in Omaha. I did, and over the years I have volunteered in various ways to help to do something about it. The bus riding, however, has given more substance to the people who live in these places. Instead of being sad statistics that I read about, I am encountering real people with real stories. They are complex and interesting and sometimes really funny. I enjoy riding with them.

For example, the other day the driver started chatting with the whole bus about a friend of her’s who had been the victim of identity theft. The guy across from me who had been cracking jokes for the previous ten minutes looked up and, without missing a beat, said, “I wish someone would steal my identity and take care of my damn bills.” This was followed by bus-wide laughter. The guy was clearly struggling financially, but he was dealing with it. Indeed, he was inspiring.

I found myself reflecting later and metaphorically about identity theft. In a way, I think this commuter challenge is altering mine, perhaps not radically, but noticeably. Here’s one example. My relationship to my car–arguably one of the most un-ecological things I own– is changing. In the 70s my father — what was he thinking — bought me a really cool orange Camero. (My father had been a car dealer, which helps explain it.) That car was an extension of me and for most of my life cars have felt a bit like extensions of my personality. (The tightest link was when I owned a beautiful F-150, which I still miss.)

I have been resisting this linkage for a long time. I did, after all, sell the F-150 for environmental reasons (but I still miss it). Also, as a practitioner of Ignatian Spirituality and as an environmentalist I have wanted to adopt a more radically ecological lifestyle for years. Cars don’t really work with that vision very well. But lining up desire and action is never easy.

This commuter challenge has reenforced what I already know about spiritual growth: it is much more impacted by practice than by thought. It is and was never possible to think my way into a different relationship with cars. I had to practice.

So, today I offer my thanks to both The Crux and the standup comic on the number 30, Omaha, NE. This has been a grace-filled month.

Unofficial Earth Day Flag” by Flatbush Gardener from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)

2 Comments »


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  • louie said:

    One of the encouraging posts I read. Thanks.

    I have always been an advocate of public transportation. In so many ways for ecological reasons, and one thing that we always forget we help Drivers to keep their jobs. It contributes to people keeping their jobs as well.

    Where I live, Society talks about ecology and find ways to become ecological but when it comes to Cars…I don’t see the society talking about reduction of private cars and promoting good transportation system as a way of healthy living. Sad to say….


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  • Michelle said:

    John,

    I am a sporadic bike commuter (when it gets dark and icy I give it up for a few months) — this post has left me thinking about what it would me for me to be “all in” on not taking my car to work. There is no bus option, but the total walk is doable if I gave up going to daily Mass and morning prayer at my parish. It’s hard to think of those activities as luxuries, but in the suburbs they are.

    Thanks for a lot to think about!

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