I believe in riding the bus.
Where I live, the bus is oftentimes a commodity only used by the people who have no other option–namely, the poor. Now, I am not poor. But riding the bus has helped me to notice people who might otherwise be ignored.
One of the biggest travesties to befall anyone is to be ignored. And it is all too easy for us as we drive to work to ignore the homeless man standing with his cardboard sign—“No Work—Just need to make it through today—Please help” or to ignore the haggard-looking single mother standing in the cold. But riding the bus you can’t ignore these people. You have to walk by the man with the sign to get to your stop. You have to sit next to the single mom. You have to stand in line with the factory worker who smells sour with cigarette smoke.
In exchange, you are not ignored either. I have had people give up their seats for me or kindly pull the cord for me to request a stop. Sometimes the attention I receive is negative, jeering, from a scraggly mouth that reeks of alcohol, laughing at me as they see I have just sat in a piece of gum. But I almost always have a civil conversation with someone on the bus. One elderly woman, a widow and retired LPN, told me about her chow-mix who had been so faithful to her, guarding her little ground-floor apartment with vigilance, and who had overcome, miraculously, a case of parvovirus, much to her delight and awe. A woman accompanied by one of her three kids admitted that she was nervous to take her driver’s permit test today, saying, “I’m scared ‘cause I don’t know how to read very well…”
Sometimes on the bus we are all quiet and stare out the window. That’s when you notice the neighborhoods you would never go through if you had opted to drive. I see the streets where the young men out of work smoke on the corners; the streets with the young girls, wearing entirely too much make-up and entirely too little of anything else, already look hardened and cynical towards the world. The streets with the crazies, the gangsters, the drunks, the addicts.
No, I can’t ignore any of that. And that’s why I ride the bus, to remind myself to not forget the poor when I vote; when I pay my bills every month and find a little extra to give away, to not forget the poor when it is cold and snowy, to not forget the poor when I am trying to raise my kids to be merciful people. After all, the poor are not just a headline; they are not just a reason for me to lock my door at night. They are the people I ride the bus with.
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