Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Many years ago I was in Milan, Italy and was waiting in the train station for the train that would bring me up to Geneva, Switzerland. I knew that the train would cross the Alps on the way and I made sure I had enough film for my camera. The train had yet to pull into the station, so I looked about at the other people waiting on the platform. There was a young man, dressed in work clothes, who was leaning against a railing, his head turned away from the bustle of the terminal. I do not know if he worked there or was waiting for his train. There is a woman walking past him, carrying a shopping bag as she makes her way toward the end of the tracks. And another man is off to the corner of the picture and he, too, is dressed in work clothes that make me wonder if he is a porter, waiting for someone to assist. The photo is in black and white. I like it. Looking at it these days, some forty years later, the three people are present to me even though they traveled on long ago. The train came; people were helped as they boarded or disembarked and went their ways. But in my mind’s eye they are still on that platform, waiting.
I like the picture because I caught stillness at the right moment. I captured on film a vignette of what much of our lives is about. We are all waiting for something or someone. Redemptive possibilities, large and small, await us in a new town, a new relationship, a new way of living in this world. We all await our arrivals. But every now and then we are still in our waiting, for there is no need to go anywhere save the places of our lives, places we occupy until the hoped for something or someone comes. Such waiting was made internationally famous in the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot.” Most recently, the magnificent novel “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy traces the plight of a father and a son who survive a near total destruction of all life on the planet and who slowly make their way to a nameless coast, despairing of a redemption that no longer seems possible. Yet it emerges out of the desolation and destruction which is the sole landscape of the book (now also a film). Redemption is a strange and unexpected grace that we carry within ourselves and is perhaps ushered into being when we have played our last and seemingly fatal card. It rises from our despair when there is nothing left for which to hope. But rise it does, comes it does. It is on its way.
I remember what the Alps looked like, and I did take pictures as the train passed through those magnificent snow covered heights. But the memory of the men and woman in the Milan station are clearer to me. I shared their waiting. And I still do.
Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time when we are asked to ponder the very meaning of time – our moments, hours, days and years. We tend to fill time with experiences that enhance it. We like to dress up time. Rarely do we let it be, and in that stillness allow it to reveal what it carries. For it carries a promise in that the Incarnation has redeemed time and our waiting. Someone is coming, reaching out to us from the very beginning and end of time and in that reach touched every instant of existence with his presence. God is among us, using time and our lives to gradually reveal the fullness of his work among us.
The truth of human life is that we must wait. Advent offers us time to ponder the goodness of whom we await. We may be tempted to fill our lives with whatever we can to rob time of its tediousness. But the stillness that comes our way – as we find it in a train station or in the slow reading of a novel, allows us to savor the wealth of the present moment as it opens our hearts to the beauties of life, beauties as simple as two men and woman waiting in a station in Milan, and perhaps going somewhere to ease the larger waits of their lives. But I saw them, and remember them. They were, and still are, beautiful on that long ago platform, waiting.