The Grace of Pace

This is not an Elgin Watch but there was a time...
credit: Sonja Langford via

Today was the Men's Breakfast Christmas Party. We wanted to get across town to a restaurant on the corner of Spartan (yay Elgin Community College Spartans!) and busy four-lane McLean Blvd before 8am on a cold, snowy day with two preschoolers. So, we took the bus. It left just a block away from our house at 7:22am and miraculously (since I pulled the 3 year old out of bed after 7am) we were on it.

The thing about traveling by bus is it takes so much longer than a car. It takes about twice as long to get across town. I have learned to love this. There is a grace to this lack of speed. I have found one of the biggest obstacles to my mental and physical health is the speed at which I attempt to live my life. I have the tendency to try to cram in as many tasks as I possibly can in a day to the point where I develop stress-related health problems. Taking the bus, biking, or traveling on foot help me to set a more human-friendly pace.

In her book Holy Spokes, Boston-based United Church of Christ clergy woman and four-season bike commuter Laura Everett talks about the importance of learning to pace for cyclists, pastors, and people. Burnout stalks the ranks of caregiving professions like nobody's business. My problem like many of my ilk is not getting motivated, it's knowing how and when to slow down. If we don't learn to pace ourselves, something will eventually give whether that's our relationships, our health, or our ability to stick with it. Cyclists and bike commuters learn the importance of pacing too. I've never been any kind of racing athlete but I know giving the race everything you've got in the first section will leave you without any power to finish. In the same way, every day I pedal up Highland Avenue I am reminded of the importance of pace, as I gauge when to switch to what gear so I have enough power left to finish the climb. In a city once famous for making watches, I have found it interesting to have ample opportunities to learn about time and pacing.

Pace also happens to be the name of our bus system in Elgin, which is an irony not lost on me when I stand on a sidewalk waiting impatiently for the next bus to arrive. If riding my bike up Highland Avenue every day offers me the opportunity to experience the spiritual practice of pacing, waiting for and riding the bus allows me to experience the spiritual practice of letting go. I am not in control with the bus. I can try to get on one going the right way but whether or not it arrives on time (Pace is generally about 3-5 min behind Google's guesstimate. Not bad!). I have no control over the driving while it's happening either, which is warmly welcomed by me. I'm the kind of daydreaming person who is served well by time to digest all the ideas and interactions life has already gifted me to process in order to get ready for whatever comes next. It also means I can practice being present to the day as it unfolds and that I can rest while someone else drives. Finally, as Parker is fond of calling to the children "The bus does not wait for you." So, we get the opportunity to practice being on-time because missing the bus can have day-changing consequences in a system with at best once every 30 min routes.

The buses were full today, probably because it was cold. People were friendly though, as I have often found folks to be on public transit. Lots of folks knew each other. They knew the bus drivers and were known by them by name. A woman stood up immediately to help another woman get on with her stroller and two tiny children. It was a rolling community of diverse incomes, ethnicities, and destinations.

For me there is something deeply spiritual about public transit. I have felt this way since my first encounter with BART and MUNI in Berkeley and San Francisco. Sure I have been threatened and accosted on transit (mostly in the Bay). I have sat next to smelly, loud, or annoying people. I may have missed those experiences if I had driven to my destination instead. And if I had missed those moments, then I would have also missed the conversation with the "fallen" Catholic about the Thomas Merton book I was reading. I would have missed watching spontaneous moments of kindness and blossoming community. I would have missed peaceful moments of observing my city through big glass windows while I was not driving and feeling a deep sense of connection to it all.

Today I remembered that Pope Francis when he was just ya know the Archbishop of Buenos Aires (no big deal) eschewed his limo to ride the bus. Now, I don't think I'm as cool as that guy. But I was thinking today about why he did it. I mean religious types like us, we're supposed to be faithful, helpful, spiritual. We're not supposed to be hung up on material things, right? And we're supposed to know how working people and people in poverty live, right? This is at least somewhat in line with my understanding of faithful religious leadership. So, how could he really do that from a limo? He was just out there doing his research and getting out of his churchy bubble. Smart guy. For me (until the church hires that limo!), I guess the question is what am I missing about my city from the confines of my car?

Sure, I can get there faster in my car but there is a certain grace to a pace that I can't control, that takes me closer to real people not just other cars (cars do not talk or shop), and that teaches me to practice slowing down--pacing myself. Economically, the bike still beats the bus but on a cold, snowy day at 7:22am, I was grateful for a warm, grace-filled ride.


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