We moved to a new city and are temporarily carless so my husband, my toddler and I are getting reacquainted with walking, biking and bussing. It has been great for our health. Not having a car has forced us to be more intentional about shopping and eating out which has been good for our wallets. It’s also made us slow down a bit as none of the above mentioned forms of transportation are anywhere near as fast as a car. All of these things have forced us out of our “normal” life and challenged the way we do life. The challenge has been good.
Riding the bus has opened up other opportunities to step out of normal. Like giving me an easy opportunity to talk to strangers. This isn’t necessarily an opportunity I was looking for, or even really want, but it’s there. Not every bus passenger wants to talk to people they don’t know, at least not beyond the simple niceties and compliments that make up common interaction. But some do want to talk, and it’s usually the stranger of the strangers that are looking for conversation.
Last weekend we rode the bus to church for a workday on Saturday then for worship on Sunday. On both days, at a certain stop a few minutes away from our home, the bus picked up a talkative, dark-haired lady. It was obvious that she had some physical challenges because she walked with a cane and she had a look that indicated she probably had some social an economic challenges as well. On Saturday she commented on how cute my two-year old is and then, as long as I maintained eye contact, kept talking. It became apparent that she was polite and didn’t want to talk too loud so, as a result, I couldn’t hear half of what she said. On Sunday she recognized us and, because I smiled at her, she seemed to feel comfortable carrying on a one-sided conversation with me across a few aisles again.
As she talked, I thought of blogs (like this one) that I had read that encouraged people to treat homeless with respect and to reaffirm their humanity by making eye contact with them and talking with them even if you weren’t willing or able them money. Looking them in the eyes, treating them like a person, affirming the value and their humanity could sometimes be a bigger gift than meeting physical needs. After a few minutes of the awkward distance talking I got up, leaving my little girl with my husband and sat down next to the dark-haired lady. I asked her some questions but mostly just looked her in the eye and listened to her talk. If she mattered to Jesus, she should matter to me, right? And since I had failed so miserably at loving the people who matter to Jesus yesterday (I’ll write more about it after I’ve processed more), and because it wasn’t even a sacrifice for me to change seats on a short bus ride to give her the gift of presence and affirmation, I did.
After listening for a while I was glad that I could still only hear part of what she was saying because she was telling me stories about her life that were terrible. She had been hurt many times by many people. I don’t expect that my act of being present and listening made any great difference in her life in that moment, though I’m sure it brightened her day a little, but it made a difference in mine. It helped break the ice for me to talk to strangers, even strangers who are a bit awkward. It reminded me of the truth that moments matter and it made me grateful for not having a car so that I was able to be in a place where I could give the gift of presence that day.