Yesterday I was riding the bus back home after a client meeting. (For those of who don’t know me well, I prefer to take public transportation when I can – it helps the environment and makes travel time more productive and relaxing.)
What I’ve discovered with all my bus riding around the US and world is that not all places are as respectful of other riders as I’ve experienced in San Francisco. In San Francisco, bus riders will give up their seats automatically when an elderly or handicapped person boards. I haven’t seen this anywhere else I have traveled and have come to really respect this attitude.
So I was sitting on the bus and we pulled up in front of a stop to let some additional passengers on. One was an elderly woman. She was easily in her mid-70’s. Her face was heavily wrinkled and her gray hair was held back in a kerchief. She walked hunched over as she boarded the bus with her shopping cart. She was homeless.
I watched the people around me on the crowded bus. Everyone averted their eyes, moving slightly out of her way as she made her way down the aisle. She stood, grabbing onto a bar, as the bus started moving forward. She was invisible to the people on board.
I stood up and asked her if she would like my seat.
She looked up, completely surprised…and then grateful. She sat in my seat, holding onto the shopping cart with her hand, and started talking to me.
“My house is in this shopping cart. I used to have a real house, but then the rents were increased and my social security check wasn’t enough to pay for it. I had to leave.”
She explained to me that sometimes she was able to find a place to sleep in a shelter, and sometimes she couldn’t. She hoped to find a place to live, but hadn’t been able to find one that her small monthly check would cover the rent and have enough money left over for things like food. We talked for a good five minutes, until the bus got to my stop.
I looked around at the obvious discomfort of the people around me, and then turned back to the woman. I wished her a good day and said that I hoped that she would be able to find a place to live real soon.
I’ve spent the last 24 hours thinking about this woman. Through a series of unfortunate events, she is homeless. It could happen to any one of us. We could get sick and have the medical bills take away our homes. We could lose our jobs and not be able to find one in enough time to prevent losing our home. We could be old and alone – as this woman was – without family to take us in.
It breaks my heart to think that our world can just look past another person and not see the humanity that exists in him or her. This woman’s reaction when I offered her my seat really hit home how much she had become invisible to our world, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to recognize her as a fellow human being.
I know I’ve written before about how we are disconnected from one another, choosing to focus on our differences rather than our similarities. The only solution I can think of to bring humanity together is to start to connect with each person that crosses my path, even if it is just for a few minutes. I’d love to start a “connection wave” where each one of us does this. Are you in? Maybe, just maybe, we can make this world we live in a better place.