I don’t travel well. I usually schlep a carry-on, hat, cellphone, ticket, passport, pen, and book with me wherever I go and whichever form of transportation I take. Add a cappuccino, and movement becomes cumbersome. I have to think strategically, especially when trying to avoid setting anything on the floor in the Men’s Room. By the time I get to my destination, I am exhausted.
That’s what happened this Thanksgiving holiday. The return trip on New Jersey Transit from out of town involved one mishap after another. The train was so packed that people stood in the aisle. The man next to me listened to Spanish commercials on his cellphone (I think he was deaf), and a woman across the aisle called all of her relatives and spoke to them in Dominican Spanish, which has no breaks in it whatsoever. If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume all Dominicans were pearl divers.
Then there was the young couple in the seat in front of me doing things to each other that I dared not watch but, of course, watched. I leave the details to your imagination.
When we pulled into Penn Station at 34th Street, I waited for the herd of people to mount the stairs before getting off and heading for the subway. Once in, I sought the 1 train uptown to Columbus Circle at 59th Street. My plan was to get off and walk to Fordham University at Lincoln Center, where I would take the inter-campus shuttle to the Bronx.
However, all signs pointed to the 1 train downtown. After many attempts to locate the right platform, I found the stairs uptown, but they were closed for construction. I had to take the elevator. The line for the elevator was ridiculously long, and I saw someone eating a bagel with cream cheese as she waited her turn. She had Frida Kahlo eyebrows and mustache.
Now, I abide by a few basic principles in life. One of them is that if you have a mustache, you should not eat cream cheese in public. I don’t care if you are a male, female, or anything in-between. Eat cream cheese in the privacy of your kitchen.
I got onto the 1 train uptown. When the doors closed after several false starts, the conductor announced that we were on an express train whose next stop was 79th Street. Anybody who wanted to go south would have to get off at 79th, cross over to the opposite side, and take the southbound train. Since I wanted Columbus Circle at 59th Street, this was exactly what I did, not without grumbling and cursing.
But it felt great to get into the fresh air of Columbus Circle and Central Park. I made my way down 60th Street (not whistling but almost), went to Fordham’s main entrance on Columbus Avenue, and discovered that the university was closed. Of course it was. I had miscalculated. Students drive the inter-campus shuttle, and, since they were on Thanksgiving break, there was no service.
I convinced the security guard to let me use the Men’s Room, being careful not to set anything down, and then left the building. Now, I would have to go back to the subway for the D train to the Bronx.
There is no escaping fate. Fortuna omnipotens et ineluctabile fatum, as the poet says.
But then I noticed St. Paul the Apostle church next door and decided I needed spiritual recharging. I had spent the weekend recharging my phone. Why not me? I went in and found a few people standing in line for confession prior to the 5:00 pm vigil Mass. I decided to join them.
I won’t bore you with the details of the confession (I live an ascetic life), except to say that there is a line in the old prayer text used during confession that refers to the “near occasions of sin.” The priest brought it up during our time together.
“Yes! That’s exactly right,” I told him. I had experienced a barrage of near occasions, from the ride on Jersey transit to the 1 train to my frustration over the closed university.
All of these moments could have gotten ugly. Indeed, in my own mind they did get ugly. And I could have acted on them with a snide comment, a shove to somebody’s back, or yelling at the conductor who saw fit to yell at us passengers.
That’s the thing about sin and why the church distinguishes venial sin from mortal sin. These little, venial sins add up. They gather weight like snow on a canvas awning until the awning rips under their weight. Yet, how much does a snowflake weigh? How near can I get before the occasion becomes a reality? Near occasions are hard to avoid.
They are everywhere.
Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Feature image by John Rocha from pexels; subway photo by Fancycrave from pexels. Note to self: I thought of a name for a German-Japanese conglomerate: “Fuchs Sake.” The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance.