On my ride home on the train today I was hoping to simply put my head on the window and fall asleep for 70 minutes while I rode to the end of the line. Not today. The usual train etiquette that calls for near silence as weary workers sink exhaustedly into the stained seats was violated by an obnoxious, chatty, awkwardly dressed, redheaded, chubby piece of crap guy talking to two women – middle-aged and elderly – about how children need to be disciplined today. He told a story about a nephew who threw stones at an antique car, causing $6000 worth of damage. "If he were my kid, I’d get out the belt and he wouldn’t be able to walk for days. That’s what kids need – a good beating. That’s what I got as a kid, and let me tell you, I never forgot it. Sure, I was still a bad kid, but I never forgot the beating my dad gave me."
My stomach is starting to churn. I cannot decide whether I should throttle this piece of shit man or if I should pray for his children. I decide to pray. Yet my prayer is distracted by his loud voice and a sinister prayer that seeps unconsciously from my being, a prayer that somehow upon disembarking from the train this man may slip in the rain and whack his head on an unforgiving piece of steel. I try to squelch this prayer, and ask God to only regard my intentional prayer for his children, not my unintentional prayer for his demise.
But then he heaps racism on top of the child abuse he is already espousing. "Did you hear about the meeting Mayor Street had with all the parents of the delinquent students? (news article here) Yeah, he was telling them that they’d get arrested if they didn’t ensure their kids went to school. But some of the people were like, ‘Hey, I can’t take my kids to school – I’m a single mom, working two jobs, and I just can’t do it.’" He said this last line, quoting a mother who attended the meeting, in an exaggerated and condescending, mock African American accent and cadence. "Like hell you can’t," he continued, returning to his stern, white male, child-abusing voice. "If it were my kid, I’d make sure that he got there," he said, as he pounded his fist. "Sure, Whitey," I snap back at him in my head. "You try raising several kids on your own while working two dead-end jobs in the middle of a crime-rattled neighborhood. Guess what? Suburban towns like yours refuse to build affordable housing or provide public transportation or subsidized day care, so women like the one you are mocking are left to stagger and stumble under an oppressive socio-economic system that benefits white guys and makes life really difficult for black women. Shut the f*ck up."
It was at this point that I opened up my computer, put on my headphones, and cranked up some tunes by New Order, Monaco, and The Cure to drown out the waste of flesh that sat five feet from me. Any more of his hateful venom would have inspired me to a verbal confrontation and a release of the vicious anger that resides somewhere between my chest and my fist. And it doesn’t help that he showed up in my life during a week, a month, a year in which I am wading waist deep in the emotional morass of suffering and death, and confronting some of my own fears and anxieties in the process.
Now he’s getting off the train, and I almost stand to address him, to tell him that I’m praying for his children. But I sit down, and return to the keyboard. I do not need my prayer for his children to turn into a trigger for abuse. But I will pray for his children. And I’ll pray for him, too. He got off the train safely, so perhaps my prayer now will be for his transformation, that he might reject violence and seek to live with compassion, empathy, and love.
Lord, hear my prayer.
Take my anger, Jesus, and turn it into love.
Lead me to have compassion not only on the victims of violence, but also on the perpetrators, who themselves are victims of a dehumanizing and crippling sin.
Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you.