Anyone who knows New York’s J-Train immediately understands a few key proverbs: One, the J-Train is best ridden during the day; Two, the J-Train through Brooklyn is not a very safe ride; Three, the J-Train is best avoided. In my old high school another proverb might be added to the list but it sounded more like an ancient curse: damned are those who go to school in the shadow of the J-Train.
The J-Train begins its serpentine path at Jamaica Center, a deceptively pretty station with red-brick flooring having the unfortunate onus of being on the gray line teeter over the edge into one of the worst neighborhoods in Queens. From that sad origin it makes it pounds through hoodlum-ridden Jamaica Avenue, through Brooklyn’s unsafe Cypress Hills, across King’s County war zone unjustly named Eastern-Parkway, over Marcy Avenue (home of Marcy’s Project–gang zone), under the bum-ridden Bowery and finally, passing-out on a shady part of Broad Street.
But back in Queens, nearby that long shadow of the J-Train, was my old school: Richmond Hill High. It wasn’t the greatest Public School even though we can lay claim to such names as Phil Rizzuto, Rodney Dangerfield and Cindy Lauper (in an honorary capacity).
In an almost similar locale but in Brooklyn, hunched under a perpetual shadow and the nearby cemetery was the hulking Franklin K. Lane High School. A person riding the J-Train could see the blackness of the building and much like Frodo and Sam peering down on the Mordor’s Black Gate, the train rider would avert his eyes in fear and desperation.
On certain Fridays, when we least expected it, certain Lane students would spew out of the J-Train in an en masse exodus that resembled a Biblical plague of locusts, waving mini-bats and stone-loaded socks. Apparently, this group hated Guyanese people so much that they wanted to stomp out anyone who resembled them (which included Indians and olive-skinned Dominicans). Those Fridays were appropriately named Beat Down Friday.
I hated the Lane crowd. Early on some Beat Down Fridays, I’d peer out the window and would pick them out, in the shadows or nearby cars, mingling with other students and I would hope and pray that it would rain fire. Or lightning. Or cops. Something.
But nothing ever stopped them. I found comfort in my legs, even if it meant running for ten blocks and having an asthma attack at some strangers back yard. I hated the Lane crowd. Even now I can’t help feeling a loathing, much like Jonah did against the Assyrian butchers.
And yet there’s a part of me that sits in wide-eyed wonder thinking that two thousand years ago, Christ died for Them as well.
It’s real easy for me to think that Christ died for sinners but, really, I’m not that bad and in all honesty, God probably could use someone like me in Heaven. Then I stop, appalled because the fact is I don’t deserve heaven–none of us do. And although some of us do some pretty horrid things over and above the meter for human horridness, that doesn’t mean that we’re decent people in front of God.
My “not-so-badness” was so bad that it took God coming to a cross to die.
That’s how serious it was–so very serious that it took shedding the blood of God. And it’s not that He shed bled to show “I love you”; He shed blood to punish sin. Someone had to pay and if it were me or those Lane Hoods, we’d be wiped out. Fire would rain.
But instead He sheds blood for me. And if He would do that for me, well then He most definitely did it for Them–the Franklin K. Lane squad. The Jerks. The Monsters.
The worst Friday in the history of Time, the Ultimate Beat Down Friday, winds up being the day that God punished Christ for what we all have done wrong. The best thing about that Friday winds up being that Christ wasn’t a victim while being a (historic) victim, He willingly submitted Himself to that to ensure that we all weren’t wiped out.