I got on the wrong bus. I was cold, exhausted, and so desperate to get home that I just jumped on the first bus that showed up at the stop. Once I was on, I found my way to the very back, as far away from everyone else as possible. To me this was a signal. It said: I want to be left alone. I made this point even clearer by staring out the window, avoiding eye contact. I was so distracted by my bad mood, that it was 15 minutes before I even realized that I was headed in the wrong direction. By that time there was nothing I could do but ride the bus until it circled back towards home. This new revelation did nothing to lift my already dwindling mood and little did I know my day was not about to improve. It was at this point that a woman entered the bus trailing behind her two rambunctious little children. I made more of an effort to show that I was not in the mood for socializing. She, of course, sat directly across from me and began trying to settle down her children. But they would not be settled. They were loud and obnoxious, and continuously pulled the stop line so that the driver paused unnecessarily at every stop. This only prolonged the agony of my misguided bus detour. In my head I was screaming at this woman, how dare she bring these children to torture me on my already harrowing day. Outwardly I only dared a few angry glances in her direction when she turned her head to attend to her children. I sat quietly in my bus seat, with irritation and frustration coursing through my veins. Then suddenly, she spoke. She said nothing particularly profound, just a friendly introduction. I was so taken aback by her openness that I responded simply and politely without even an ounce of the indignation and curtness that I felt the situation justified. She pressed on inquiring what my purpose was on this bus today. I was determined not to have a conversation with this woman. I made my sentences short and to the point, but she wouldn’t quit. She seemed so interested in me that I found it easy to hold conversation with her. Before I knew it I had spilled over all the events of my day to her sympathetic ears. The more we talked the better I felt, not only because I was getting the chance to vent, but also because this woman, that I hardly knew, seemed to genuinely care about my discomfort. When she exited the bus I was surprised at how disappointed I was to see her go. In our twenty-minute ride together, she had managed to brighten my day so much, despite her own difficulties. I was amazed to note how effective empathy can be at relieving the stress of others and how the best of moods are truly contagious. This I believe.
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