On The Bus With Kathy Jo: Bus Stop Revelation
When catching a rush-hour bus out of downtown, I walk to the second stop so I can get a window seat before the bus fills up. An aisle seat near the front doesn't work because there's always at least one elderly person getting on. I always feel like the pressure is on me to get up.Few things challenge a good mood like standing on a crowded bus. A close runner up would be waiting for the bus. People love to talk about misery at the bus stop. I can't take it. All I do is nod my head while they bitch about welfare if they think a recipient is at the stop. They'll bitch about the over-abundance of handicapped parking spaces at the mall, making sure everyone knows they're car-owning commuters -- the bus elite. I just stand there, "uh huh," knowing a bus will rescue me at any minute.Walking to the second stop also keeps me moving, keeps my thoughts flipping like film frames. Nothing can get me down or distract me for long. I just cruise along, takin' it all in -- a window full of wild wigs and sparkly belts, the sidewalks dotted with bright red McDonald's boxes.In a blink everything changes, like I was listening to a song and someone dragged the needle across the record. I look straight ahead and am faced with what has to be a homeless man. His light brown hair so dirty, beyond merely greasy, it sticks out in clumps. Scattered teeth I never look directly at. Weathered cheeks slipping from his face. Cloudy brown eyes widening. Oh shit! He's going to speak."Can you tie my shoe?" Tie his shoe? He doesn't want change? Giving him change would be sooo much easier. The bus stop is huge and everybody's watching. People love seeing others forced into situations with no social script and stare in a snotty way. Like "what's she gonna do?" Like it's my fault. But of course, it is.I'm not strong and they all know it. I don't skip down the street like I'm oh-so self-confident. I tried when I was in therapy and always felt like a dick. Self-confident people suck. A "self-confident" (AKA "assertive") person would have kept walking as if they never heard him. I'll tie his shoe.As I kneel, every detail of his brownish beige overcoat fills me with shame Every weave and tear in his brownish green pants pop out at me. Way-too-short bellbottoms looking like clown pants. Paper-thin socks slipping under his heels. And finally, surprisingly bright blue Nikes, only one untied.A tender but matronly voice in my head gives instructions: Loop one lace to make a big balloon and wrap the other around the bottom to tie it shut, make sure you hold the air in .... I'll tie a double knot, make sure I don't pull the laces too tight. In case they'd break. Or if I tied them too tight, what if he couldn't find someone to loosen them?I'm stalling, not knowing how I'm going to be able to stand and look at him without exposing the sorrow in my eyes. Not pity or loathing. Just this feeling -- I'm so sorry.So sorry we live in a world that sees people who need our help as predators, while ignoring the predators who distract us with distrust until they dictate every aspect of our lives. So sorry that I was more concerned with being evaluated than helpful. So sorry that we're all guilty of that. So sorry that I can't do anything except tie the shoe.I stand back up, careful not to make the same mistake I made going down, careful not to look at his clothes. I glance up and see him looking right at me. When our eyes meet, a smile transforms his face -- a smile that makes me understand why people write symphonies, overwhelmed by a feeling so enormous that it would require hundreds of different instruments to replicate it. It was the most tremendous "thank you" I've ever felt.At the same time, rage trembled inside my skin. I knew everyone was expecting him to ask me for money, after getting his foot so far inside my door, never thinking that maybe, just maybe he couldn't tie his own shoe. That just maybe he had really tried. That maybe I wasn't just a chump.He had a faith I often don't. Even knowing most people would brush him off, he still knew someone would stoop to perform such a tiny act of kindness. No wonder we value confidence and independence. It's our way of saying we can't trust people to understand or help us.Cars bang and rattle over potholes. I feel a drizzle of rain. It's as if someone snapped their fingers and the world started moving again. He's gone, disappeared under a canopy of bobbing bad hats and umbrellas. And no one's watching me anymore.I look at my watch, wondering if I missed my bus and can't believe only a few minutes have passed. If I hurry, I'll get that window seat, but not so I can brush the whole thing off like a private detective leaving the scene with a pocketful of notes. I'll stare out the window while I think about why I forget to be grateful for the smallest things. Like a window seat.