This morning I was on a crowded commuter train in London; reading my book I was locked in my own peaceful world just like everyone else. It was quiet. I like that quiet of the morning commuter trains – it has a gentle, sleepy, quality. It feels respectful, everyone careful to abide by the consensus for silence in a consensus built pretty much on self interest. You leave me in peace and I’ll do the same for you. It’s not particularly cheery or loving, but it’s not grudging or resentful (a vibe that’s all too common on the late afternoon homeward commuter trains).
At one stop we were held for a while after everyone who wanted to had got on or off. The train driver made an announcement and apologised for the delay – we would have to wait a few moments for the line ahead to clear before we could proceed. There was a mild collective reaction, a vague ripple in the still peace and quiet – but it was nearly imperceptible, no one in the carriage even audibly sighed. And then suddenly into the silence:
“Ladies and gentlemen, can I just take this opportunity to let you all know: God loves you, God loves each and every one of you – of us. Go well today. Thank you for listening.”
That was all. It was a short message, gently and respectfully delivered. Nonetheless I instantly bristled – at the disturbance of my peace, of the peace of the carriage. At the shock of the intervention into our sleepy privacy, so carefully guarded against, and by, one another. Then in the next moment I engaged my brain – and I was shocked at my reaction to what was essentially a generous message of love. I raised my eyes from my book and looked up at our messenger. He wore a half smile, and had his eyes half closed. Perhaps to prevent anyone catching his eye. He must have known that it’s not easy to give a free gift to people who aren’t expecting it.
It’s not easy to receive a free and unexpected gift, either. Perhaps if we gave each other more of them we’d all get better at receiving them too.