The Sacred Commute

There is something sacred about a late-night drive with the windows down. There is something meaningful about a commute at ungodly hours of late night and early morning, when you are only a lone adventurer hurtling down quiet streets. It is a time of wonder for the open, broken-hearted adventurers. It is a time for affirming song, for utter silence, for whistling into the wind, and for making prayer and writing one.

I’m a commuter student, taking classes full time while working part time. Living 45 minutes from school and work, with approximately 14 hours of driving weekly, can make life fairly complicated. Often, I’ll stay the entire day on the other side of town, because it is more efficient than coming home and going back up. I also find myself in a hurry to leave for school every morning, always silently wishing that I had the extra 30 or 45 minutes that would come from living close to campus. Thus, I manage to find a way to at least silently complain about my commute every single day, or find someone that I can verbally gripe to about my status as full time commuter student.

But I’ve gotten to thinking about it recently, and I’ve starting biting my tongue whenever these complaints come into my head. Because, honestly, my 1.5 to 2 hours of daily driving has been some of the most valuable and influential time for me over the past three years. It gives me a large chunk of alone time, perfect for thinking, praying, venting, singing, and just being silent.

When I first started commuting to school, the beginning of my senior year of high school, the radio in my dad’s pickup truck gave out precisely two days into the semester. At the time I thought, “Seriously? 2 days in, and I don’t have access to music for the rest of the year?” But, as it turns out, that was one of the more valuable things that happened to me at the time, because the lack of music forced me to use my driving time well. Instead of being able to drown out a day’s frustration or sorrows with music, I had to think through the things that had happened each day, come to terms with them, understand why they happened, and decide what to learn from them. I learned to ask questions, vent, argue with myself, and to make up for the silence with my own singing. I would roll my windows down, and just sing whatever came to my mind. In a way, singing acapella seems to be more affirming than just copying-catting the words that a recorded voice is singing. When you sing all by yourself, it is as if to confirm to yourself that you do in fact believe the words that you are singing. It seems to cement them deeper into your heart and thoughts, and make you remember and appreciate them. And if you happen to drive with the windows down, you learn to sing straight into the face of the wind, sometimes having your voice drowned out by its. You learn to whistle into the wind.

During this time, I learned to be observant about the things that were going on outside my car windows, and, thus, I started driving with the windows down. I learned to feel the wind, to hear the sounds emanating from the sidewalks and streets, and actually had many interesting encounters with homeless people standing on street corners. I learned not to ignore and disconnect from the things outside of my car windows that I didn’t particularly want to see, by drowning the sounds of the world with my chosen music. Instead, I learned to be connected to it, at least in a small way.

As driving hours have lengthened, edging their way into later into the night, the role of my nighttime driving has shifted. Silence has been harder to maintain. Now that I have my own car, with beautifully convenient CD player, music frequently drowns out thoughts of the day. I have to fight to maintain silence, to keep music as something that lines up with what I’m already feeling, rather than something that induces a feeling in the first place.

But as night hours have lengthened, a new form of redeeming them has recently emerged: writing out loud.

It began one night when an idea for something that I wanted to write popped into my head, as I was driving. Well, I’m not a total idiot. I wasn’t not going to put my notebook in my lap and start jotting away my thoughts while steering with the other hand. So, I pulled out my phone, hit the “record” button, and started narrating my idea. Surprisingly, my words weren’t jumbled and rent with “umms.” They flowed beautifully, almost just as they would have if I had been writing them. And, in an odd way, it felt as though this spoken-writing was a form of prayer; as if I were writing to God, and in that moment my writing was sacred and holy. Well, to my surprise, this habit continued, and developed. Whenever I have a thought during late night drives I pull out my phone and just let the words rush out. They are prayers, acceptance of the day’s happenings, confessions, apologies,  songs, and hope of things to come.

One spoken, sacred piece of writing occurred a few days ago, on my way home  from work. It had been a bit of a rough night, full of realizations about the frustrations and pains that many people feel, and the day weighed heavily on me. Below, for the most part unedited, are the words that I wrote out loud.

“It’s just one of those nights. One of those nights when you desperately wish that everything in  your life meant something. That everything was for some purpose. But you’re not quite sure if it is. You sit there and you wonder: ‘Is it? Will it be? What will become of it? Will anything I do ever make a difference? Why do I do the things that I do in the first place?’ The nights when you want to ask all of the questions, puzzle through all of the dilemmas, and then come upon all of the answers; when you want to sing all of the songs, work through all of the emotions, write all of the words, resurrect all of the dead, heal all of the wounded. But you can’t, and you wish you could..

One of those nights when you want to shine all of the lights and make right all of the wrongs… but you can’t. At some point, you can’t do anything, but sit there, and watch, and wonder, and wait– just one of those nights. You want to be everything, but you know that you can’t be, and you know that it’s not going to take you anywhere trying to be. It’s one of those nights where the  world seems so vast– all of its elements, all of its passions and pains–and you wonder, but you don’t know what do. You keep on walking, but you’re afraid to venture into that place of wondering, because it’s a deep pit and once you enter you’ll never quite get out of it and once you admit yourself to this level of thought you’ll never quite be able to be certain again. You’ll always have that little nagging thing in the back of you mind wondering, ‘Is this meaningful? Does what I’m doing right now mean something? What am I doing it for? What will it lead to? Is it worth it? Can it mean something? Oh Lord let it mean something. ‘Cause If not, I don’t want to be doing it.’

On these nights, you want to sing all of the songs that can be sung and and write all of the words that can be written and talk to every person that there is to talk to, but in these moments, these things are completely insufficient to manifest the vastness of the world; they can’t contain it. And you sit and you watch and you wait and you wonder. And then you walk. And sometimes you venture back into that place of deep wondering, digressing into it like a rest stop along a journey. It is place that is always familiar, a place where you rest and consider. Although it is not the best places to be, you must digress into it, to think and to grow.

It’s just one of those nights. It will probably turn into a late night; a long night, filled with coffee and chocolate, papers and paraphernalia sprawled out on the kitchen table. It is full of attempts to make sense of words, make dents in the checklist, be there for people while burning midnight oil with them, and put aside the things you should do for the things that you really need to do, in order to be who you need to be. 

And those late nights bring the thoughts, and then tiredness and frustration. They are those nights when you sit there and think… ‘This is not the person I want to be. This is not the place I want to be in. I want to be somewhere else. I want to be someone else there. Or, I want to be this person, but just somewhere else.”‘They are nights for 2 AM-abandoning- of-words and-thoughts, and staggering outside before going to bed, kneeling down on the dirt to look at the stars. The stars are an everyday promise, a reminder, and a covenant kept for 3 years ago, that, every night, you will step outside the door and look at the stars, even if they’re not there. Even if there is only foggy haze and cloud, even if there is absolutely no sign of them, you keep that covenant every night by saying ‘This is how I end my day; on my knees, staring up at the wonder that I know is there even if I can’t see it. Despite all broken covenants that I have broken, I have kept this one, and that is how I will end my night. That’s what tonight is like. And we’ll see what tonight brings. This is the place that I’ve been put, and I don’t know where I’d be without it, so praise the Lord for it.'”


2 thoughts on “The Sacred Commute

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  1. “…every night, you will step outside the door and look at the stars, even if they’re not there.” I love this! When Geoffrey graduated from high school, we gave him a book called The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds. It’s a children’s book but is one of those classic books that say big things at a child’s level. It is about discovering your unique path in life to achieve your dreams and finding stars to light your way. The stars are your passions, interests, and abilities. You follow them in helping you to determine priorities and make decisions. You should look for that book. (And keep writing–orally or manually. I love your thoughts.)

  2. That sounds like a wonderful book. I’ll keep an eye out for it. From your description of it, I definitely agree with its message. Even though the sky can become clouded and foggy down here, winter months are often full of clear nights bursting with stars, but whether or not they are visible, going outside to look up is always consoling and calming these days. It reminds me that I’m actually very small, so I shouldn’t let such small things get me down. And thanks so much for your encouragement!

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