Three years ago, I found myself on a pilgrimage that began with $30 and instructions to be gone for 30 days. Two weeks in, at a computer in the public library of Pacifica, CA, I learned that Fr. Dan Berrigan had died. I immediately opened a new tab searching bus rides to New York for the funeral. I needed to get on a bus in 6 hours if I wanted to make it.
I was staying at an AIDS hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity. Leaving would mean saying goodbye to patients I was learning from, sisters who were providing me food and shelter, and giving up meaningful work. Nevertheless, I felt called to be in New York.
So, with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty and in the cold, dark Greyhound Station in San Francisco, I waited to embark on a four day bus trip. We departed at 11:00 pm, and soon crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge where I could see Alcatraz in the distance. I tried my best to fall asleep.
The bus ride was lonely, sad, and it smelled. I was deeply uncomfortable and slightly scared. The bus was filled with people who, like me, seemed uneasy about where they were going. Some were angry, and tensions at times ran high. There were racial slurs being thrown, threats being made, children being screamed at, drugs being traded, and a driver who treated the passengers like animals. This was all paired with constant worries about missing the funeral and having nowhere to sleep in New York. My stomach was in knots.
After two days, we got as far as Denver and my prayer became rather testy. “You need to do something.”
I reboarded the bus and found myself next to a new stranger. Fortunately, she was eager to chat. For the next two days, Laura and I shared our anxieties and fears. I’d never felt so lonely or helpless in my life. She had recently lost everything and was moving to the East Coast with $14 to her name. Laura was worried she would miss a connection in New York and I feared I’d miss the funeral.
In the middle of our first night on the bus together, we were woken up and told to deboard the bus. It was 2:00 in the morning and the bus needed to be cleaned. Frustrated and hungry, Laura and I sat outside the Greyhound station. When it opened at 2:30, we went in to find something to eat. With our money, we purchased a plain bagel.
In the dark, we sat on an uncomfortable wire bench. We took the bread, broke it, and shared it. Suddenly my worries began to dissipate. The fear and stress crumbled with the breaking of that bread. My anxiety about the bus, the discomfort and the loneliness, the possibility about missing the funeral and it all being in vain seemed silly with this bread now in my hand.
Bread has a way of putting things into perspective. If I were stuck on that for bus five or ten more days, it would not have been comfort, a phone, a funeral, or a bed which I desired most: it would be bread. That bagel and Laura revealed the root of who I was: hungry. How glad I was to share that and complete it with a stranger.
When I finally arrived to New York for the funeral, I walked into a Church filled with thousands of people. The crowd resembled those on the Greyhound. People referred to as down and out, ne’er-do-wells, the defeated, the poor, the crazy. It was a rabble-rousing crowd sitting, standing, pacing in an enormous, magnificent and expensive temple. This was the Greyhound they deserved.
Mass began with jubilant singing, proceeded with beautiful readings, and included a homily on “These United States of Amnesia.” When it came time for Communion, I walked forward as we sang of being pilgrims on a journey and holding the Christ light for each other in night times of fear. The priest held Bread before my eyes and said, “The Body of Christ.” As I received God in His flesh, things were once again put in perspective. Suddenly, it mattered very little that I had just traversed the entire country. The entire country, the whole world was converging in hunger for this very Bread.
Dan Berrigan once wrote, “When I hear bread breaking, I see something else; it seems almost as though God never meant us to do anything else. So beautiful a sound, the crust breaks up like manna and falls all over everything, and then we eat; bread gets inside humans.”
I walked back from communion overwhelmed by a feeling of cosmic companionship, a feeling of extraordinary closeness not only to the people around me, but also to Dan Berrigan, Laura, my Jesuit brothers scattered across the country, and my family in Minnesota. It felt as if the whole world, its beauty and ugliness, was involved in the chewing of that Bread.
I was reminded that even in the midst of poverty, hunger, and war that God has indeed fallen all over everything. This tiny Bread inspires a revolution of tenderness. Like pop artist Sister Corita Kent said, “God’s not dead, He’s bread.”