A family of Mennonites sat quietly in Los Angeles Union station awaiting their departure. As I looked on, it occurred to me that I’d never met or seen Mennonites. As the hour passed, one person after another approached them and asked absurd questions, like, “Why do you dress like that?”, “What are you doing here?”, and “Where are you going?” I wish they’d replied with a direct “none of your business!”, but they are too gentle-natured for that. I didn’t ask them anything, but I was intrigued by their time-warp essence and dewy skin. There’s a romantic element to their lifestyle and the way they adhere to past (and now present) traditions. How could these “foreign” visitors live only seven states away in the middle of all of our chaos and remain completely unaffected by any of the world’s problems? From what I’ve read, these self-sustaining communities are all over America (and the world). They live without electricity, build their own homes, grow their own food, including some of the most amazing cheeses I’ve tasted! All I can say is that I probably wouldn’t last two hours there, and I’m pretty handy! I had a newfound respect.
Amtrak boarding began, and snapped me out of my daydream. As we all rushed toward the gate, I overheard the wife ask where they were going. Her husband, the patriarch, responded with a nervous, “I, I don’t know where to go.” I had to help. Perhaps it was to show others not to be jerks, or even because I had my own guilt for being a passive gawker. Whatever the initial reasons were, my desire to prevent this man from failing to guide his family into uncharted territory safely became my new objective. I led them to their train and the entire family refused to board. Paralyzed by fear of ending up in the wrong place, they stood at the door of the train and waited for the conductor. When no Amtrak employees came, I assured them they were on the right train. Sometimes the employees never show, an announcement is made; and the train just departs. It took some coaxing, but they finally boarded the train. They went to the top of the stairs and found seating enough for all of them right in front of a digital sign that read, “en route to San Diego.” They were relieved and began to settle in and relax. The entire family was gracious beyond belief and I could tell by their reactions, they hadn’t met many kind strangers on their journey. For that I was ashamed -ashamed for my communities outside of theirs. My own prejudice shone down on me like a spotlight, and I was quickly humbled.
For that I thanked them.