The people who take the westbound bus, the bus I am waiting for on this Sunday morning, are what you might call “a mixed lot.”
Some have tattoos. Most don’t have smart-looking haircuts. Some are burdened with shopping bags. Most shuffle, looking rumpled as their clothes.
I’ve not been waiting long for the No. 43. In fact, I’ve been sitting on a bench, in the shaded breezeway in the middle of the transit mall, while they have dutifully stood against the morning sun.
The bus pulls up, and I hold back to let the others board first. The last of the lot, a small-framed woman, motions for me to board ahead of her. She defers, the way many do, I notice, among the poor, to people like me who have all the bearing of privilege.
No, I motion, my earbuds in place. You go.
There seems to be a problem. She’s explaining something to the driver. But he’s anxious to pull out on time.
I remove an earbud to catch what’s happening. She has no fare. I reach toward my wallet where I keep two dollar bills for moments like this.
The driver waves her through. I show my pass. The door closes. We take off.
The seats ahead of my friend are empty. So I put down my bags.
“Do you need bus fare for the rest of the day?” I ask.
She holds her hands to her face and bursts into tears. Words tumble out of her mouth.
“I just came from the hospital I was there overnight the security guard yelled at me because I was in the restroom for ten minutes ten minutes and he said that I was taking too long and my car is smashed …”
She’s a mess.
I pull out my two neatly folded dollar bills and offer them to her.
“Oh, I can’t take money from you,” she weeps.
“You’re not taking it,” I tell her. “I’m just putting it back into circulation.”
“I’ll pay it forward,” she promises.
“Money was made to be kept in circulation,” I say.
She seems to have calmed some.
“My name is Maria,” I say.
“My name is Nina.”
I notice that something has shifted. We each have a face. And now we each have a name.
“Nina,” I say warmly, embedding her name in my memory.
You just never know when saying someone’s name warmly might be the first time in a long time they’ve felt real.
“Nina, I’m glad we’ve met.”
Something always shifts, I notice, in this moment of befriending. It’s a flesh-and-blood moment, which no one else can do on your behalf. Nor can you make it happen. It’s grace.
“Nina,” I say, “may I pray for you today?” I just float it out there, hopeful for a bounce.
Well, she lights up.
“That would be so amazing,” she says.
It will indeed be amazing. I won’t know how. But I know that Nina will feel accompanied today by a shimmering, closely held sense of God.
“My father was a Greek Orthodox priest,” she tells me. “He spoke seven languages. I come from a large family, with roots in another land.”
I behold Nina’s face, her gestures. She has just stepped free, like a carved figure stepping forth from its cold marble encasement.
She pulls the cord for the next stop. We bid each other a blessed day.
She deboards. And I imagine Nina bobbing like a buoy in a rough patch of sea.
I do not share her rough patch. My life is calm, uncomplicated.
The bus merges back into traffic. A block before my stop I see a car, pretty smashed up, lying for dead on the grassy berm beside the road, surrounded by yellow tape.
Nina. Her rough patch in life, messy, traumatic, unresolved, will be the matter of my Eucharistic offering today.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on
the nature of God’s calling in our times.