Just a Stranger on the Bus
Roughly four hours into a five-hour trip from New Orleans to Beaumont, Texas, the bus pulled into the Lake Charles, La., Greyhound station. After we stretched our legs a bit, the reboarding passengers got on, followed by new passengers. I was a little miffed that someone sat next to me. He smelled of sweat and pickles, and had little understanding of personal space or cell-phone-on-public-transport etiquette.
But the only empty seats were singles on the aisle, and not many of them at that.
The driver was firing up the engine when there was a loud pounding on the door, then a collective groan as we all realized our departure was about to be delayed by someone who was going to insist on getting onto the already crowded bus.
The driver opened the door and stared out, but no one got on. He looked annoyed as he left his seat and stepped out of the bus, only to return a few seconds later, carrying a screaming, flailing, little red-haired boy, grasping him by the sides, arms extended. He put the boy gently into the first open seat, which was in the second row next to a woman who looked like someone had just handed her a live grenade.
The screaming intensified when a moment later the boy's mother appeared, carrying a second distraught, slightly smaller red-haired boy. She looked to weigh all of 100 pounds and had what seemed to be everything the family owned in two backpacks slung over her shoulders.
People were annoyed with her, and she knew it. She turned to face the crowd, and I saw the ugly bruise on her cheek, the shiner and the bright, red blood pooling in the corner of her eye. She looked frail and frazzled and scared to death. And there was no way she was going to finagle herself and those children into that lone seat and put her bags overhead without help.
But no one moved. No one. The driver was pulling the bus away from the curb. The mother looked at the woman next to her and said, "Can you please help me?" before handing her baby over to the stranger, who took him uncomfortably and held him until his mother stowed her bags and sat down, wedged into her single seat with two still-screaming children.
For what felt like forever, I tried to figure out how to make this better. Finally, I asked sweat-and-pickle guy to take a seat a few rows back, and I helped the woman get her little ones into the now-available double seat where we had been sitting. I transferred her bags to the overhead rack above her and quietly gave her some cash and the unopened snacks I had picked up at the last rest stop. She accepted, without question or hesitation or false pride. She thanked me; we made eye contact; and for a split second, her face softened, her eyes relaxed and she breathed for what seemed like the first time since she got on the bus. Then I settled into an open seat near the back.
The real threat to mankind isn't nuclear war or natural disaster. It's lack of compassion and the isolation that comes from apathy. We seem to be destroying ourselves from within. This is why I tell you all, every chance I get, that I stand in awe and humility at what you do, and eternal gratitude to be even a small, tangential part of it. As fundraisers, you give people the opportunity to create on someone's face, somewhere, the look I got from that scared, overwrought mother. Powerful, powerful stuff. Thank you.