These tracks are just tracks;
Calm edifices, cool shade over
A busy street.
Life flows by underneath,
Strolling in suits and skirts
With professional gait,
Never pausing for the thunder overhead.
These tracks, the arms of progress,
Lending helpful hands to efficiency and thrivation.
Those tracks are traps;
Cold, steel fingers over
A dismal scene.
Life is choked wandering underneath,
Aimless, ragged, and high
With bodies stooped down,
Frozen by angry lightning overhead.
Those tracks, the walls of cages,
Condemning the hopeless to death and starvation.
These tracks are just tracks,
Those tracks are mortality.
Moving from one major city to another last summer was a major change for me. I had the opportunity to go from Midwest to East Coast, spaciousness to density, Chicago to Philly. What was the biggest difference in my perception though? The El train tracks. In Chicago, not much surprising activity happens under the train tracks on an average day. In Philly, however, the tracks rise above the biggest hotbed of opioid distribution and consumption on the entire coast. It’s a much different picture; people overdose every day as hundreds of homeless and addicted people congregate in the area. It’s a harsh environment, and it’s easy to meet people who are deep in despair.
This is not to say that I prefer Chicago, or that Philly is a hopeless place. They both are important to me for different reasons, and both have major reputations for their struggles too. The point I wanted to make in this piece is that perception plays a huge role in your mission. The world is dying all around us, and some places (like the North Side of Chicago) are just better at hiding it than other places (like the North Side of Philly). The urgency of the gospel seems more palpable among people who toil each and every day without hope and without anyone to save them from themselves or their environment. So while the El tracks have a whole different meaning from one city to the next for me, I know the message of Christ and his promises are universally the solution to humanity’s despair and misery. I’ve seen that light shine under the El in Philly and in the streets of Chicago alike.