Grace takes a poignant bus ride

Just in time for Thanksgiving, check out this blog post from Cincinnati Enquirer editorial writer Krista Ramsey:

He is on my Metro bus only occasionally, a worn man in rumpled clothing with disheveled hair.

Buses are such forcibly communal spaces that people try not to be intrusive. Still, it’s hard not to notice that this man’s life looks different from the rest of ours.

We are mostly middle-income and suburban. His face is etched with exhaustion and he carries virtually no belongings. We drive ourselves to park-and-rides. He appears along a busy road seemingly out of nowhere. He sees our distraction over the day ahead. We sometimes wonder where he slept the night before.

A few weeks ago he boarded the bus, took one of the side-facing front seats and, as he typically does, locked his gaze on the floor. A few stops later a young woman boarded, a regular rider who speaks good but not native English. She swiped her bus pass only to find the machine wouldn’t accept it. The driver told her she would have to deposit the $2.25 fare. “But I just bought this card,” she said. “I paid the money.”

The driver said she could take the card back to the sales office and explain the problem. Meantime, she would have to pay the fare. The woman became distressed, trying again to explain that she had purchased the pass as she always did and to grasp what was being asked of her. The bus idled along a busy road, always an uncomfortable feeling. The rest of us looked up from our newspapers or conversations and watched with casual disinterest as the two tried to hash out the problem.

Suddenly, in a single motion, the male passenger rose from his seat, dropped a jangle of coins into the fare box and sat back down, his eyes returning to the floor. His act was so unobtrusive that the distressed passenger didn’t realize what had happened and continued to plead her case. “You’re good,” he finally said quietly, holding up a palm to the woman. “He paid for you,” the bus driver reiterated and pulled away from the curb.

A hush fell over the bus.

The rest of us had watched the woman’s discomfort. He felt it.

We wondered absently how the dilemma would be resolved. He resolved it. We – lawyers, journalists and businesspeople – were headed downtown to help fix the world. He fixed her world.

We could have paid the $2.25 and never missed it. It’s easy to imagine it was his fare home.

Later as I stood beside him waiting to get off at my stop, he raised his gaze and our eyes met for a moment. I tried to say, wordlessly, thank you for reminding me what a fine person looks like. He nodded slightly, held my glance directly and then looked away.

You never know when you’ll be in the presence of greatness, or of grace. We human beings are often far different from our wrappings.

To the world, my fellow passenger looked like a man in need of solutions. I admit I often looked at him and saw only what he lacked.

But by the time he stepped off the bus that morning, it was obvious that he was a richer man than the rest of us. He had enough to open his eyes and his heart to a stranger. Enough to give what he had and trust life for the rest.

I have not seen him since that day.

Some people believe angels occasionally drop down to move among us. Others believe we somehow orchestrate the lessons we need to learn.

All I know is that I have new respect for the simple act of kindness. It keeps the bus rolling. It speeds us all on our way.

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