Every day when I go to work, I take the #13 bus. It’s a brief ride, but long enough to accommodate what I have loosely come to call my “five-minute bus practice.” Instead of looking at my phone or the scenery out the window, I sit quietly and tune in to the passengers.
Breathing in ~ I try to imagine their lives and the burdens they might be carrying, wishing I could lighten their loads. Breathing out ~ I mentally offer them warmth, safety, ease, shelter, food, a cup of coffee—whatever they need. It’s an ancient practice called Tonglen—giving and receiving. It rides the breath and helps to keep me present, with my heart open, especially during times when I witness the struggles of others and don’t know how to help, or I want to turn away and check out.
Some of the people I see on the #13 are regular commuters, slipping on and off at the same stops every day; many of them have sadly seen better days, and a few seem to live in a reality I am unfamiliar with, having conversations with beings unseen by me. Each of these passengers has a story, no doubt a fascinating one. And over time, I have discovered that sometimes—even though I am a total stranger—when I am receptive and give them my full attention, they will open up and give me a little glimpse.
Meet Jackie. . .
I was standing at the bus stop, my hands stuffed in my pockets. It was a cold night. I had just gotten off work and was heading home. A woman shuffled up to the stop, nodded, and then dropped down onto the metal stool. She wore a grey hoodie sweatshirt that hung low over her well-worn blue jeans and had wisps of red hair peeking out from a blue, knitted cap. She seemed to be missing her upper teeth.
I smiled. “Good evening.”
She looked me up and down. “Well, good evening to you,” she replied. “God damn, this getting old is the shits, but I guess it beats the alternative.”
“Ain’t that the truth!” I agreed, holding her gaze.
“Hey… I’m not afraid of dying,” she clarified. “Don’t think for one minute I’m scared to meet my maker. In fact, when I get to heaven—honey, I’ve been celibate for a while—but when I go through them pearly gates, I’m praying heaven’s gonna be a place where I can have lots of sex. I tell you; nothing beats having an orgasm! Better than drugs any day—that shit will mess with you—but a good orgasm… well, that’s my idea of heaven.”
She stood up and, seeing as how I was a captive audience, began to pace in front of me, gesticulating wildly to make a point with every turn of her story. “Now, I wasn’t a whore or anything. I had my principles. I had to like the guy. I didn’t care if he was a looker, but he had to be sweet and treat me right. Ya know what I’m saying? Ooh, the memories! Honey, let me tell you… the pleasure was brief, but right in that moment, this ugly, hard world would fade away and BAM, everything was perfect, for a little while. Damn, how I miss orgasms!”
The bus pulled up, interrupting the flow of her recollections. I got on, paid my fare, and sat down. She parked herself in the seat across the aisle from me. Leaning over, she whispered. “Don’t you ever forget what we were talking about back there. God wants us to have euphoria in our lives. I believe that with all my heart. Say… are you from that church?”
“I’m not,” I replied.
“Are you sure? Cause if you’re not from that church, why are you being nice to me? Tell me that? I’ve been blabbing your ears off, and not once have you judged me. . . Thank you. You are a fine, decent woman. Say, my name’s Jackie,” she said, reaching over and sticking out her hand.
“I’m Candace,” I said, taking her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Maybe we’ll meet again someday. I’d like that.”
She grinned. “This is turning out to be a great day. Normally, I have to sleep outside, but I ran into a friend downtown who’s letting me stay under her roof tonight, where it will be warm. Hot shower, here I come! It may not be as good as an orgasm, but I’ll take it!
“Well, this is my stop,” I said as I reached up to pull the cord.
“God bless you, Candace.”
“God bless you, too, Jackie. I hope your dream comes true before you get to heaven.”
I saw her wave through the window as I turned to begin my walk home. I gave her a thumbs up and went on my way.
~ When we are truly seen and heard, that is a holy moment. ~