Wednesday, April 04, 2007
The Man on the Bus
A very memorable experience presented itself yesterday during my bus ride home from downtown. I climbed on the 15 Local (slower than the Express I just missed) and found it to be quite full. There was an empty space toward the front next to a man in a window seat. After sitting down I noticed he did not seem to be aware of his surroundings and was slightly swaying in his seat. It was hard to determine if he was intoxicated or simply exhausted and having an impossible time staying awake.
As we rode along I realized he was tilting more and more in my direction. Normally I am very aware of personal space on the bus (both mine and other’s) but for some reason this did not feel like an intrusion. The weight of his body pressed more deeply against mine until I found myself holding onto the seat handle to keep from being pushed into the aisle. This, too, seemed okay to me. After a bit, his head came to rest on my shoulder. Other riders had started to look in our direction by this time seeming to wonder what was going on. At one point, a woman in the next row pointed out an empty seat for me in the handicap row. I’m not sure why, but it felt like I would be abandoning my seat partner if I got up to move. I was comfortable right where I was, and so we continued along, two strangers, his head gently laying on my shoulder and me feeling somewhat like a guardian angel.
As we rode along I was able to see him a bit more closely. I imagine he was in his late thirties or early forties although he could have been younger. He was well-groomed and cleanly dressed in a baseball jacket with leather sleeves, a button down shirt and nice jeans. In his lap was some type of canvas portfolio. His skin was dark and his features were reminiscent of someone from Ethiopia or possibly Eritrea although I could not know for sure. Again, I wondered about his state of near unconsciousness. He did not reek of alcohol although I thought I could detect a slight hint of something. He appeared totally incapable of keeping his eyes open or his head erect—bobbing as the bus continued its route.
Several times during the 30-minute ride I was given opportunity to move from my seat, but each time I declined. It is very difficult to explain the peace I felt as I sat next to this stranger. It felt as if for a moment in time it was my job to be with this man. I did not trust that anyone else would be kind to him if I left the seat open where I now sat. I kept thinking how he seemed to need a shoulder to lean on. Ironically, there were times in the ride when it would have been hard to tell who was leaning on whom as I pressed in to keep from falling out of my seat.
Fortunately, before we got to my stop he had shifted his weight to lean against the window side of the bus so I did not have to worry that he would fall to the floor when I left. I prayed for him as we rode side by side and wondered about his dreams and aspirations. Where had he been? Where was he going? Why was he so exhausted and/or intoxicated? Stories ran through my mind about the possibilities. While I don’t believe he ever cognitively recognized I was there with him, as I placed his fallen binder on the seat next to him, I hoped that somewhere in his soul he would be able to feel and recognize that someone had been with him as he rode obliviously through the streets of Seattle.
I will certainly remember him. It was a uniquely blessed time for me. I am not sure who ministered to whom in those moments, but I did recognize clearly that sometimes we all need a shoulder to lean on.
photo by bill hughlett