One major change in my life since leaving the volunteer world is being able to afford the train when I travel out of the city. It may seem like a small feat to most but the upgrade from the scarring Chinatown bus experiences of the last year to the bliss of riding the Amtrak rails is a huge step in my adult life. It’s the little things.
Unlike most people in the this century, I usually pass my train ride by just staring out the window, forgoing any entertainment devices. This past Saturday, in a strange twist, I whipped out some yarn and a crochet hook and went to town on a project.
A few stops into my hour-long trip a woman about my age plopped down next to me, talking excitedly to the conductor about her ticket. I glanced over and smiled at her, noticing her homemade dress and shirt and the covering adorning her head. Even though I live in the city the sight of someone dressed this conservatively is not new to me. I grew up in an area where I saw people dressed in plain clothing on a regular basis. In fact, my distant relatives dressed this way.
She’s going to comment on my crochet, I thought to myself, stereotyping unashamedly.
Five seconds later. “Ooo, you crochet?” She gushed, “So do I.”
“It’s going to be a cat,” I smiled. “Would you like to see? I’ve made two before.” I displayed a picture on my iPhone.
And with that the floodgates of conversation opened, both of us sharing details about our families, upbringing, and dreams.
I told her that my brother just got married. “And you’re not married?” She implored, confused, “At 24?”
I stifled a smile. Her question didn’t offend me as it would in most circles. In her world it was what was expected, what she knew, what she looked forward to.
“No,” I told her, “And I’m happy this way.”
She was one of ten siblings. I asked if she had any nieces or nephews. “Oh no! None of my siblings are married.”
Again, I smiled inside at the vast chasm in the way we viewed things.
When we got to the subject of religion she told me was was nondenominational. I told her I was Mennonite. “What kind of Mennonite are you?” She asked, a little taken aback by my dress.
I had to think about that one for a minute. All I could think about was what I wasn’t. “Well obviously I’m not a conservative or Old Order Mennonite…” I stammered. But I still didn’t have any idea how to categorize this important part of my identity. What kind of Mennonite am I? A “regular” one?
I wrestle with this question in many areas of my life as I try to explain my views or values to people who may not agree with them. What kind of feminist, progressive, womon, activist, young adult, daughter, sister am I? Usually the question is asked when I do or say something outside of the stereotypes or molds that I (begrudgingly) fit into.
I want to be able to clearly articulate what I am for rather than what I am against but I often find myself clambering for the right words, the perfect words. After all, I may be the only non-conservative Mennonite she ever meets and I can’t make a bad impression!
As I studied her face I didn’t see the look of judgment I expected but one of sincere curiosity. I softened, realizing that I was the one assuming and stereotyping, not her. Here I was, feeling so much pressure to tell her the right things when all she was looking for was a simple answer.
I relaxed into my seat, the remainder of the ride flying by as we talked.