Finding Enlightenment on the Metro

“Look beyond the single news item. Are they isolated events? Or are they part of a global pattern that has real significance?

The preaching of armageddon is no uncommon encounter. We’ve had it all in our respective experiences–sweet old men passing out brochures on Jesus, friendly but aggressive strangers accosting you in the middle of a campus, deceiving Korean Christians trying to recruit you to their Christian team, and of course the presumed lunatics who wander the subways and sidewalks proclaiming the end of the world and the coming of the messiah/Satan/reign of evil via the Bush administration.
These religious pawns are seen everywhere and usually ignored, albeit often times with the excusal of just being slightly off their rockers. In recounting my instances of run-ins with armageddon fanatics, perhaps I have found a thread of reciprocation to this seemingly ominous question aforementioned.

In other words, I think I can ask the very same that I’ve been asked.

My mother, feeding off the suspicious and superstitious Chinese tell-tale personality of generations, has been the source of amusement and fueler of fear for me when it comes to armageddon and its link to current events. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and the great tsunami–all of which killed so many people–my mother went around whispering during news hours, “The world is changing.” The random snows in California and the hot 70 degree winters in Maryland wrought a sense of fear in my mother and inadvertently in me, for she, as I’m sure many others around the world did, considered that perhaps these natural disasters and terrorist attacks were a sure-fire sign of man turning on man and the world coming to an end.

And then she blurts, “It’s because of Bush.”

I laughed at this translation, but according to Chinese superstition, the gods easily invoke their wraths of fury at world/kingdom leaders through natural causes. And of course, even the Christian legacy will proclaim the same with sinners, concluding the fate of the world with an ever frightening purge.

Is she crazy? Not at all. My mother is a very grounded, very sane, very reasonable woman. Her notion of world karma, however, is easily transferrable, easily corruptable simply through delivery. Take, for example, an experience of mine last month on the metro:

Every morning I catch the subway train to Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. As I was sitting on the train waiting for people to board at one of the many stops en route, I distinctively heard the blow of a horn. Boarding the train was a black man with a graying beard and ratty, khaki-colored clothes. He was fully equipped with a booming voice and a large horn. This horn was unlike an animal’s horn and certainly not like the brass instruments that we’re so accustomed to, but a full-fledge horn. It curled into a large arc and measured to be about the length of the man’s torso, and when he blew, it sounded reminiscent of a conch shell–except magnified about 30 times.

He blew, startling those around him, and bellowed, “THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR. YOU CAN STILL AVOID EVIL. BUSH IS THE POSSESSED ANTICHRIST.” This easily could be a crazy homeless man who cares too much about politics, and yet, the root of his words matched those of my mother’s.

Coming from a Communications background, I am quick to remind you that the medium is the message. He prescribes his epiphany in an insane way, he is seen as insane. My mother–only mildly insane (although if you REALLY knew her, you’d claim otherwise).

Another instance: I was walking through Downtown Silver Spring and parked on the astroturf was a small crowd of people listening to a man demonstrating with an easel. He had marked on the left side of his board: MONEY + SIN + YOU = GOD. On the left side was a silhouette of a body torso with a red heart and a black hole in the heart. The snippets I caught announced the need for the acceptance of Jesus, but the image I saw was an amateur Fortune 500 lesson.

My point is that en-masse we notice patterns. We seem to respect large gatherings of events. After all, how much more extraordinary did the Virginia Tech massacre seem than your individual downtown murder, despite the fact that there is nothing normal about being shot to death?

En-masse, in hindsight, I noticed the pattern of increased armageddon preachers–does that mean that armageddon is truly near if these pawns are busy crawling out of their nooks and crannies and stealing our attention? Or are they isolated events, with each individual finding their own revelation that they must warn us of all invisible infractions?

What I found today on the subway was the true message of the Lord. He came in the form of a man–not a very beautiful man, not a very graceful man. I was sleeping on the train and I feel a heavy PLOP in the seat next to me. A large, muscular man with a heavy set jaw and sun glasses was holding a small booklet too flimsy for his large, tan hands. He shot me a clumsy grin and said, “I’ll be quiet. Shhh,” and allowed me to go back to sleep.

He had on blue sweat pants, sneakers, a light blue muscle shirt and a cap. I stared at his booklet and he leaned in and started to speak to me.

“You see this?” He pointed at a series of black and white pictures memorializing nuclear bombs, wars, battle grounds. Then he flipped the page to a drawing of rolling hills, sunshine and pure nature.

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful if the world could be like this? Do you know how it’s going to happen?”

“What?” I asked.

“Do you know how it’s going to happen?” I shook my head. “Would you like to find out?”

And he gave me the book, telling me he has plenty more.

I asked if he was Christian; he said yes, and he tries to be a good one. He told me he was from Washington to take care of his ill 80 year old father. He told me to be safe when I left. I told him him to have a good day.

He told me much more in those few moments I had with him–he told me of kindness, the faultiness that lays in judging a human by their cover, of what God’s true message was. God’s true message is to simply listen, hope, and spread the quiet moments that he gives us, for in our quiet moments does God speak the loudest.He told me that I would never know if the separate messages I received from armageddon fanatics were individual and unique or not. He told me that they should be, however, a pattern of global significance–that this pattern should be a peaceful, horn-less, one in which everybody spreads the word of God, the coming of the Lord, the end of the world as a beautiful merging of heaven and earth. He told me that anybody could find God in any one, anywhere.

I found it in him on my ride to work, he who told me so much but kept his promise–he was quiet…and I still heard him.