Every day I spend about an hour on the Metro train going to school, and another hour coming home. I leave during rush hour in the morning, which isn’t really a big deal because I live at the second-to-last stop on our line so I can almost always find a seat. Once seated, I pull out some last minute homework or whatever novel I’m reading or stare out the window at all the passing trees and buildings and people, sometimes thinking, sometimes looking.
Then I go to school. School sometimes starts at 9am and ends at 9pm, but sometimes it starts at 10am and ends at 1pm, or some combination thereof. I’m lucky to attend the Catholic University of America, so nearly every day I get to go to daily Mass either at the National Shrine or on campus. The days that I don’t go to Mass, or the days that I’ve had a really good Confession, or sometimes just because, I ride the Metro backward on the way home.
If you’re not a city-dweller, you might not know what I mean by “backward”. You see, a public-transit train is designed to move on a linear track in both directions (so on a North-South rail, the train travels from North to South, and when it reaches the last stop on the south end the last car becomes the first car, and the train now travels South to North), which means some seats face in the direction the train is going (forward) and some seats face the direction it is coming (backward).
I assume this design is intended for people who get motion sickness, so they always have an opportunity to face forward. I don’t get motion sickness, and I like to ride the Metro backward, usually when I’ve had a really bad day or a really good one.
Riding the Metro backward means I relinquish all vestige of control over where I am going. Of course, I am on a train, so the track is fairly consistent. I suppose a rogue conductor might be able to derail the train, or switch tracks at one of the major intersections, but as far as I am aware the DC Metro employees have never done such a thing.
What I mean about relinquishing control is that when I ride the Metro backward I cannot see where I am going. In fact, I don’t know where I am until it has passed me by into the rapidly disappearing distance as the train smoothly slips through the city-side. Shops, office buildings, restaurants, parks—by the time I recognize and name what I am seeing, those places are already behind me, I am somewhere new which I will not recognize until that place, too, is in the distance.
I do not recognize where I am, and I definitely do not know where I am going; with my back toward the “future,” everything is a mystery.
Riding the Metro backward reminds me that I never really know what my future holds, and that often I will not understand my present until it becomes my past. God is in full control of where my life is going.
If I am facing forward, I might see such-and-such university ahead, or a cute little coffeeshop, and I might want to go there, but the Metro might not pass directly by them. Facing backward saves me from the temptation of “planning” where to go next; instead, I can relax and let the train take me wherever it sees fit, trusting that it will, eventually, take me home.
Riding the Metro backward reminds me that God too, will eventually take me home, and that He has His own plans for how I will get there.
My husband reminds me that the Metro does not carry me alone. Like the Church, the train carries many people in many stages of life, some facing forward, others facing backward, some standing and some sitting. All of us, all of our diverse selves, are moved along by the Church/train in the hope that it will eventually bring us home.