Groggy from waking up early, I boarded the 7:30am bus from Philadelphia back to NY, hoping I would find adjacent empty seats so that I could comfortably spread my body. The first level was full so I climbed up to the second tier. At first glance I could not find any empty seats, but gratefully I found two all the way in the back bench. As I walked toward the seat, I noticed my fellow passengers. For the most part they were people in their twenties, drowsily leaning their heads against the windows. The only exceptions were a young looking mother with a toddler next to her, and what looked like a middle age woman with her younger son and adolescent daughter. When travelling I often wonder who the people are and where they are going. I never really thought about it, but I guess it comes from my sense of connection with people and my desire to know them.
I settled into my seat, which was one seat away from the adolescent with her mom and younger brother. She had her purse on the seat next to mine and I put my purse next to hers. On the way down to Philly, I worked on my computer the whole way. But this time I thought I would just close my eyes and get some rest. Suddenly the most mellifluous voice came over the speaker, welcoming and offering us safety instructions. I instantly recognized his warm and personable voice as the same driver I had when I rode down. I felt grateful to get him again. He is one of those rare service providers who truly enjoys his work and transmits that joy to his customers.
His presence woke me up and inspired me to continue the writing I began on the way to Philly. I took out my computer and began working. From the corner of my eye I could see the adolescent showing a powerpoint presentation to her mom, while quietly speaking in Spanish. The presentation was about my favorite actress of all time, Audrey Hepburn. I stopped my writing to take a better look at the presentation. I wondered what it was about but returned to my work.
Working away, I felt my writing flowing effortlessly out of me. Suddenly the toddler, who is about 4 seats in front of me, starts crying. I looked up and could see part of his body between the seats, but could not see his face. I attempted to see his mom but she did not seem to be responding to his cries. People around the bus were fidgeting as they were trying to sleep. He continued crying, his voice escalating, demanding attention. I, of course, can no longer concentrate because there is no more painful sound in the world to me than the sound of a crying baby. I am sitting there wondering what I should do. It was clear that the mother was not going to soothe this baby. I wanted desperately to go there and soothe him, but I did not know what the mother’s reaction would be. I was particularly sensitive since the mother was black and I did not want to trigger any racial feelings.
I continued to weigh my decision and finally I chose to go with my heart and see what I could do to help. When I got to their seat, I found the mother, who looked like she was 18 or 19 yrs old, playing with her iPhone with her right hand while lightly holding on to a beautiful little boy with her left hand. He is crying hysterically, his face full of tears and snot. I softly asked her if there was something I could do to help. She looked up sweetly and said no, he is just tired. Realizing that she does not see me as an intruder, I got down on my knees and started talking to the him. He didn’t respond. I asked her what his name was and she told me Mason. I asked her if she had a tissue and she took out a tissue from her bag and cleaned his face. I continued to ask him what was bothering him and how I may be able to help him. Nothing but more screaming coming out of him. I then asked him if he would look at me. He turned his face toward me and I gave him a big, warm smile. He immediately stopped crying.
“Are you tired?” I asked him. He shook his head. I asked if he was bored and he nodded yes. We began conversing and he, with the help of his mom, told me he is going home to NY after visting with his cousins in Philly. He had fun with his cousins and is now going to go home to ride his bike. By now, his mom put her iPhone down and was totally engaged in our conversation. Slowly, his body relaxed and sank into hers. It was clear that he was tired, so I just stayed there looking into his eyes. our eyes locked. We stared at each other for about 10 minutes in silence. At some point, I actually felt his essence connect with mine and I could feel his brain imprinting “This is a kind and caring experience and connection.” His eyes began to close but his mind was resisting the sleep that was engulfing him. He would force his eyes open to see if I am still there. I knew I had to stay until he fell asleep. His mom, present to what was happening between us, began to gently caress his cheek. This went on for another 10 minutes until finally his eyes remained closed.
As I stood up to leave, his mom mouthed a sincere thank you. Turning to go back to my seat, I caught the grateful faces of the people on the bus. I went back to my seat and the adolescent next to me opened up. I learned that the Audrey Hepburn presentation on her computer was a class assignment she did for a fashion marketing course she is taking. She spoke of her passionate admiration of Hepburn, not only because of her talents and style, but more importantly because of her humanitarian work with children. I also learned that she is from Venezuela and that her parents sent her to school in Philly so that she can have a better life. Her mom and brother came to visit her from Venezuela and they were on their way to sight see in NYC. She left a very big family two years ago and moved to Philly by herself. I marveled at and acknowledged her for her courage and wisdom. We spent the rest of the trip discussing Hugo Chavez, the pope, and life in general.
When we arrived in NY, I wished the whole family a fun trip. I passed by Mason and his mom. He was just waking up from his nap and looked up at me with a big smile. I reached out to hold his hand and his mom asked him to thank me, which he did. We waved good bye as I stepped down to the lower level.
When I got off the bus, a cold wind hit my face and contracted my body instantly. I was back in the streets of NY, being with this moment.