I don’t have a car. Other than the fact that automobiles are expensive to buy and maintain, I just prefer not having one.
In addition, I got used to public transportation while living in Europe so I don’t miss the personal mode of travel. I get around using the public version in the US just fine. That sets me apart from many Americans . Cars are a form of worship here.
One of the consequences of my choice of movement is that I am exposed to folks I might not otherwise encounter if I drove. For example, there are the old age pensioners, people of different cultures and races and less well off who take the bus. Furthermore, I meet a lot of transportation service workers.
Having lived like this in the US for a few years now, I have grown comfortable around people who may have a different background than I do. As a result, I tend to converse with them as “fellow travelers” (pardon the pun) in life. In fact, these days I am more like them than the humans I hung with in a previous version of myself and enjoy our talks.
Two such conversations took place yesterday as I was returning home from an overnight trip to the big city. Like Barney Fife I like to “go up to Raleigh” occasionally to get away from small city life. Otherwise I go stir crazy. In this case, I also left town because I had to see a specialist for a medical issue in the biggest metropolis in my state. I used the time to go to an NBA game and enjoy a decent hotel.
As I was waiting to buy a bus ticket home yesterday afternoon, a young African-American man was at the counter in front of me talking to the clerk. He wore a bright jacket containing patches celebrating national basketball championships of the major state university.
The ticket clerk, also African American, called me up to the counter. I looked at the fellow next to me and said,”I like your jacket.” He replied,”I appreciate it” and added,”I don’t like them.” That remark seemed incongruent to me, as did his personality. The guy seemed to be a little agitated and self absorbed.
What happened next caught my attention. The clerk said to him,”This is your ticket. Don’t lose it. Pay attention.”
After he left, she said to me,”Hi, my name is Cara. How can I help you?” I said,” ‘Cara’ as in ‘caring’. That’s what you are.” She smiled.
I added, “Sorry. I’m an English teacher so I like adjectives.” Cara answered,”Oh, I need people to teach me how to talk.” She then provided me some examples of what she saw as faults in her speech.
I told her,”Don’t worry about it. You talk just fine. I mainly like to teach people how to write.”
Cara exclaimed,”Oh, I’m a writer. I love to write.” This wonderful young lady then told me a story that both amazed and deeply saddened me.
“I was in on a journalism team in high school,” she said. She mentioned that her school was in a town most people know as the roughest place in our state.
“But then, one night I was at a football game,” Cara continued. “I was with my best friend from the journalism team. She was pregnant. I was too.
But there was a fight outside the stadium that night. She was shot through the stomach and died and another friend of mind was shot through the hand trying to protect her. After that, I was too shook up to return to school.”
So here I was in the presence of a talented young woman working at a bus station selling tickets who seemed to have missed her chance at being a “somebody” in life through no fault of her own. Who knows, she might have been a future Oprah Winfrey or Maya Angelou but for her tragic experience.
When I got back to my town, I hopped a local bus to go to the WalMart and resupply. As usual, I over-shopped and lugged too many plastic bags full of groceries onto the return bus.
I also wasn’t quite with it. The driver, a nice man who in a previous life was a police detective, said to me as I sat nearby,”Do you have a pass?” I apologized and inserted my monthly ticket into the gizmo that processes such things. My lack of mindfulness delayed our departure and a woman about my age got onto the bus, also seeming a bit hurried and out of it, and also searching for the means to pay.
As the bus lurched forward some glass bottles fell out of my bags and hit the floor. Thankfully they didn’t break. But this aforementioned woman, now in the back, saw my predicament and offered me one of her sturdy grocery bags that usually cost about a buck in the store.
I thanked her and stuffed my loose products in said bag. After a minute, I yanked a dollar out of my pocket and went back to offer it to her. The lady said,”Oh no no. We’re a community. We need to help each other.”
I replied, “I agree”and told her of my experience that day in the big city bus station.” She asked,”Was her name ‘Cara’?” I was again amazed.
This young lady Cara, working at a seemingly unimportant job, was serving the public in her state and making a name for herself through her character. Cara truly WAS ‘caring’ and used her lowly position to minister right where she was.
As I have been mulling over my seemingly chance meeting with Cara and another normal citizen on my local bus that showed some love to me, I thought of others I had met who were like them. To be honest, such people are few and far between, but they are there.
I recalled an African-American cleaning lady at a college I once worked at who was a woman of renowned on campus. Her job brought her to our building in the middle of the night. She did conscientious work.
If I remember correctly, this lady even brought me breakfast once. That might have actually been another cleaning lady, but if so it still makes my point. There are loving people in every walk of life. I also remember her as an intelligent, well-spoken woman,
One day I learned she was gone. Her male partner had been killed in a motorcycle accident. This catastrophe may not have normally mattered to the faculty and staff at this small school. After all, she was “just” a cleaning lady. But her reputation on campus was such that her tragedy mattered to US.
My patrician British South African boss in a Middle Eastern country used to like to say to me after an event,”What can we learn from this?”. That’s been my question after yesterday.
The immediate answer is that I too can seek to be a minister where I am in my current circumstances. I’m not that important, really. But I can be to somebody.
I am informed by my Christian faith on this subject. The Apostle Paul taught that believers in Jesus should lead the life God has assigned to them. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t seek a better spot and take it if it becomes available.
However, Paul noted that even if they were indeed slaves, they were actually free in God’s view. But they were free in the sense that they could use this freedom to serve Him.
The total message of the Bible indicates that to serve God well involves loving the people He created. The folks I ran into yesterday exemplified in the flesh how that could be done every single day.