by guest blogger, Ryan Pendell.
The nun that stepped onto the bus was old. Not Mother Theresa old, just regular old. Her small ankles that she walked on had frayed stockings sagging around them, stuffed into her worn out shoes. When she sat down she rested her wrists in her lap and looked at the floor of the bus.
Next to her, sitting on a platform above her, there was a man who started talking loudly in her direction. He shouted about how evil the Catholic Church was, how awful priests were. He went on talking about priests for a long time, staring right at her. She didn’t look up or move at all. The bus was packed, and everyone there just sat there and watched.
I watched. I watched it for at least ten minutes and said nothing. Then my stop came, and I got off. I am not Catholic, but I knew that was wrong. Somebody should’ve said something, defended that nun who hadn’t done anything. Why didn’t I just say something? Why didn’t anybody say anything? And what would make someone act that way? And what was she thinking?
Years later, a week ago, in fact, I attended my first Project Interfaith event, a guided discussion about morality. After the discussion I felt like morality—whatever I think it is—has something to do with that gut feeling I had on the bus, that sense that no matter what your background, you deserve to be respected as your own person, not just your group identity.
But I also learned from my group that some people have been really hurt by religion. They don’t see it as a good thing. I have been religious my whole life. Although I’ve struggled with my faith in many ways, I never saw religion itself as bad. But now I have these other stories. They aren’t ones I can explain away or dismiss. They are now part of me, and they are part of how I think about my own faith. I carry them, not quite sure what to do with them but glad that I have them.
I realize now that there was a LOT going on that day on the bus. Everyone on that bus had a story. The rude man shouting had a story. The nun had a story. I had a story. The stranger next to me had a story. We were all there, strangers together, holding our stories, waiting for someone to listen, to take our stories and carry them.
Ryan Pendell is a freelance writer living in Omaha. He studied Philosophy at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and received his MFA in Writing from the Art Institute of Chicago. His poetry has appeared in Saint Katherine Review, Anglican Theological Review, and Christianity & Literature. He enjoys watching classic black and white movies at Film Streams and mastering the perfect cup of tea.