I keep thinking about a young woman I saw on the bus this morning.
I was so glad when the bus arrived at my stop so that I could get out of the cold. I climbed on and settled into one of the last available seats. Several people were already standing. I was so glad to be on the warm bus and to have a seat. About two stops down from mine, the bus stopped and let a group of people on. After they boarded, the driver did not leave the stop. I wondered what he was waiting for. Finally, I saw her. Hurrying as quickly as she could while dragging a stroller through the snow, a woman was approaching the bus. She hauled the stroller up the steps and showed her pass. The bus was crowded and she could not fit the stroller down the aisle. Finally, she asked a man in a front seat if she could sit in his seat. He got up and moved. She sat down with a big sigh and unbundled a child from the pile of blankets covering him on the stroller. All I could see was his red coat and his big, serious eyes.
I looked at the woman. She was just a girl, really. She did not have a coat on, just a heavy sweater. I remembered how cold I had been outside, even while wearing my warm coat, and imagined that she must have been freezing as she walked to the bus. She looked so tired, with big dark circles under her eyes. She began to talk to some of the other students on the bus, and I realized she was on her way to school. I thought about how hard it must be for her to get that baby up and dressed and drag him down to the bus stop and go to school. I realized how easy my life is, how privileged I am. I really wanted to do something for this girl. I wanted to give her a coat or some food or some encouragement. I didn’t have anything to give her, so I just gave her a smile. She kind of scowled at me and looked away, busying herself with her child.
The young woman got off at Main and South, with a bunch of other students who were headed for school. She bundled that baby up in his blankets before dragging the stroller down the steps and out into the snow. I tried to catch her eye, to send a positive message to her somehow, but she did not look at me.
I have been thinking about that woman all day. Her tired-looking face haunts me. The fact that she had no coat bothers me so much. I know that I will probably never see her again. Even if I do, I still won’t have any right to intrude into her life. I wish I could befriend her. I wish I could give her something. I wish I knew how I can do anything for her. I have been praying for her, but I don’t even know how to pray for what she needs.
One of my strongest feelings is shame. I am ashamed that I complain about the cold – with my nice, warm coat and my woolly hat and scarf. I am ashamed that I grumble about walking in the snow – when I have no heavy stroller to drag with me. I feel ashamed that I have been given so many blessings and yet I can offer no blessing to this girl. I feel ashamed that she turned away when I smiled – ashamed of the differences between us that form an insurmountable barrier.
I don’t know what to do, and so I pray. And I don’t even know how to pray for her, really. I pray for the girl in the sweater, that she will be safe and warm. I pray for the same for her baby. I pray that they have strength for the present and hope for the future. I pray that someone will give that girl a smile that she can accept. In my prayer, I reach out and wrap my arms around her, sending her warmth and love. For myself, I pray that I will learn how to put my thoughts into action, so that I can make a real difference in the world.