I have a new job. It’s actually not brand new; it’s 113 days old. In this job I generally feel like I’m doing meaningful work that is both self-fulfilling and worthwhile in its service to others. I can pour myself into the work and feel I contribute to the larger organization and help shape its direction.
And I drive 20.0 miles each way to work.
This is substantially different than the job I had for the more than two years prior. (The job is substantially different, but here I’m focusing on the commute.) My previous job was just 1.0 miles from my apartment.
So, every day when I go to work, it’s like I am going to 20 days of my old job. It’s been a tough adjustment. Allow me to elaborate.
First, the obvious: I drive 35-40 minutes before I get to work in the morning or home at night. It makes me feel tired and drained in ways that I didn’t expect. (After all, it’s not like I’m working 20 times harder than my old job.) Due to the extra time my commute adds to my “work day,” my after-work life has suffered. It’s hard not to feel like the day is close to maxed out when I get home.
Secondly, the commute has surfaced my own attitudes of stinginess and hoarding. I frequently think of the cost of gasoline and tolls, as well as the constant ticking of the odometer and the general wear and tear on my ever-depreciating car. Maybe that sounds normal, but in my heart I knew it was serious, and I knew it was wrong. I’ve been progressing in this regard of late, however. First, I’ve tried to be thankful, shifting my thinking—perhaps it’s for this job right now that God allows me to have my car. Plus, I haven’t done the math, but it may be that the $0.55 per mile I am reimbursed for my post-commute-on-the-job driving is profitable for my small Toyota Echo. And even this week I realized, the miles I’m racking up now are really just making up for the minimal usage of the last two years.
Once I knew my route to and from work by heart, I stopped focusing as much on the distance and how long it takes. It has become normal, routine. (Though I still dread tomorrow’s drive.) I was excited when I began to redeem the time by listening to audio books I check out at the library. I’ve already listened to four I’d recommend: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea; Nineteen Eighty-Four; In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin; and Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy. There have been times when even as I pull up to my apartment, I don’t want to get out of the car and go inside because that means walking away from the narrative that has captured me. The library gets new arrivals all the time and my list to listen to grows faster than it shrinks.
As much as I’ve enjoyed those audio books, however, a few days into Lent, I decided to give them up along with all radio in my car. I’ve even popped out the radio face and stuffed it in the glove compartment until it can be resurrected on Easter Sunday. I intend this season to not simply be an exercise in discipline, but of more intentional quiet space and conscious time of connection with God. I have been doing lots of thinking on my commute, though not as much praying as I had hoped. It is much easier to pray, however, just God and me alone in the car, without feeling like I have to choose between him and NPR. (For the record, NPR is usually louder and more forceful.)
Today, as I drove three Bhutanese people back to their homes after helping them apply for jobs, we sat mostly in silence. It was largely due to my low language abilities in Nepali and theirs in English. I thought it was a bit awkward once or twice, and wondered if American music in the background would really have ameliorated the situation. Instead, I prayed for each of them – for their families and their adjustments to their new lives in theU.S., for their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, and for the new jobs they’ll start next month.
As the silence has settled comfortably, I’m surprised how many times I find myself singing a worship song that has popped into my head. I don’t know if these songs are simply surfacing cognitively, after recent Sundays in church or if there’s some deeper soul thing going on. Are the lyrics that come to mind particularly relevant to my spirit’s current cravings or even its health? No doubt, it will take more time of observation and reflection to determine. Good thing I’m driving 20 miles to work tomorrow.
Sasha grew up in the US Virgin Islands on St. Croix. After high school she moved Stateside and played for the softball team during her undergrad years at Haverford. She has her MA in Intercultural Studies from Wheaton college and currently works as an employment associate for World Relief. She live in a refugee community in Wheaton.