I don’t have my driver’s license. Some days, that embarrasses me, so I’m indignant and self-righteous about why more people shouldn’t drive. Others, I accept that no one took the time to teach me when I was younger, and now the prospect of being in control of an unforgiving, metal bullet terrifies me. Both are true to some extent.
Mostly, riding the bus is a painful reminder every time you step on that you still haven’t quite escaped poverty yet, out this far in the ‘burbs. But there are lessons you learn riding public transit that are difficult to find in the same degree anywhere else. By its nature, you find yourself riding with the people in our society who have been brought down lowest; all with a story, most with an excuse. And yet, you find incredible hope and resilience.
You listen to the stories when you forget your headphones, like the stories from the group of 19 year olds behind you who are on probation, heading their parole officer to check in at the county jail. The slang and smell of smoked cigarettes hangs on them. One of them mentions his daughter and baby-mama, and that he’s been thrown in jail for not paying child support (because he can’t find anything but a minimum wage, part-time job), even though she’s dealing drugs out the back door. You take it all in, and even at your most compassionate, it’s hard not to think his life is already over. The cycle continues.
You see acts of love and kindness. Those who have nothing giving to others who have nothing, too, because they are in a rough patch. An elderly woman plays with the baby sitting in the seat in front of her and gives a stressed mom a moment of repose. A teenager gives someone his last two dollars to get a prescription until their social security goes through.
They are hopeful beyond hope. Because they have to be. Because if there isn’t any hope, then what else is there?
You see rage and sadness. The two men who start fist fighting on the train because one accidentally bumped the other and couldn’t bother with an apology. Young women screaming at each other over a cheating boyfriend. Drunks finding their way home with slurred speech who’ve had enough of this whore or that asshole.
They have had enough. They can’t take anymore. No matter how hard they work, how they try to clean up, how they want to turn it around, they can’t. They are trapped and are giving up.
You cover your daughter’s ears during the more excessive bursts and try to explain that he’s just upset like when she gets upset. He probably just needs a hug from his mommy. And it hurts to know that probably is the truth of it.
We all need connection. Even riding the bus, you feel isolated. Apart. There isn’t enough common ground even in the trenches to bind one of us to the other. We complain about the bus being late or appreciate the break in the rain while we all stand waiting, but it’s an awkward, forced conversation.
All the people remind you with their lack of social skills that you do not belong here.
To break through each other’s walls, higher than normal while pushed together with so many unknown people and participants, feels almost impossible. What common ground could I have with this person except a four year old and a drug dealing parent?
And then you realize you have so much in common. From all superficial glances, you could be grouped together by socioeconomic status, by expectation, by lineage. Then what makes you so different? It probably sounds arrogant, but I think it’s the way you dream.
So where do you find connection? Where do you find the other dreamers? The people who haven’t been so downtrodden they can’t go on? And can you find them face to face?
Perhaps when you can identify sameness of spirit at a glance, you’ll know. Otherwise, you may still have many lessons in compassion to learn.
(( This is a small break from my more typical work. All of these stories are raw images of the human experience, like a photo you don’t realize someone is taking of you. It’s a reflection of my own imperfect views of choices and consequences and learning compassion. I hope you enjoy it. ))