Public transportation is a weird thing. I use it regularly whenever the weather is not conducive to walking to work, or I’m in a hurry. (Now that I moved to my current apartment and I’m farther from my office, the four-mile walk is –perhaps— a bit excessive, but WALKING IS AWESOME. And someday I can tell my kids “When I was your age, I used to walk an hour to work each way!”*)
Nevertheless, I’ve had a mixed bag of experiences, from the peaceful professional commute with a bus full of university professors and students to the more unnerving experiences with people who yell expletives or have inch-long nails (think “man who cuts glass with finger nail”) or who stagger on board with saggy pants**. The most frightening experience I ever had on the RIPTA happened last winter, around February. A tall dark man in a beanie, sunglasses, and a canvas jacket boarded the bus, and instead of taking a seat, he stood in the center aisle to face the rest of us. Then he resolutely lifted a paper bag over his head in the way that indicated, “I am angry and I have a bomb!” I sincerely thought he was going to announce a hostage situation or tell us we were going to die. Thankfully, after a few seconds of standing there with his arm raised, he turned around and grabbed a handrail. It was one of the few moments when I think my heart stopped beating, and in part why I’ve never considered public transit a model of goodness and humanity.
*It’s possible my 28-year-old son or daughter won’t appreciate this.
**I didn’t realize this was still a thing.
Seemingly unrelated but related: I recently watched a movie about the law of attraction—that people receive the type of energy they put out into the universe—and I decided I should experiment with this. My typical M.O. is to worry and think negative thoughts and be cynical and sarcastic…all of the most charming qualities one can possess. So, instead, I thought I should try being thankful and exude joy and optimism. It sounds very Pollyanna-like and nauseating, but I was in this frame of mind last Tuesday when I rode the bus, and GET THIS: I observed more random acts of kindness in a single day of public transit than I’ve seen in weeks.
HERE ARE A JUST A FEW
While waiting for my first bus, I stood at the stop with an elderly man propping himself up with a cane and a 22-ish year-old woman typing on a blinged out cell phone and wearing leopard pants. When the bus arrived, the man made a move to get on the bus, but his foot got twisted and he almost fell. Instantly the young girl was at his side. She helped him board and held his bag of groceries until he was safely up. I thought at first they knew each other because of how she jumped in to hold him up, but when he thanked her after he was aboard, I realized they were strangers.
Once on board, the old man with the cane stood near the bus door, and three high school aged guys (also in saggy pants) who looked like young 50 Cents unanimously stood and offered him the bench seat. They were so courteous. A few stops later, a woman’s bus pass wasn’t working and the driver said it was no big deal—he let her on anyway (related: the next day I forgot my bus pass altogether and the driver let me on without having to pay or giving me a hard time. I was SO GRATEFUL).
Later, on a different bus, we picked up a woman who was taking quite a while to board. I admired my own sense of patience and lack of irritability at the delay when I realized she was carrying a child, a bag, a stroller seat and a stroller. The only reason these things became apparent was because the woman next to me jumped up and loaded the stroller onto the luggage area. Meanwhile, the man sitting on the bench seat across from me (who had been talking on his cell phone) got up and moved so the mother could have the convenience of sitting near the front and also have room to put her baby’s seat next to her. Then, when I tried to get off at the wrong stop, the bust driver politely ignored my stop request (knowing I wanted to get off at JWU Harborside) and took me to the correct location.
Now, I tend to think I am a model citizen and the embodiment of good deeds***, but I didn’t do one of these kind acts that I witnessed (except for trying to help the old man, but I was too slow in my reaction time). I found it encouraging to see goodness in seemingly small ways because they added up throughout the day to give me a wonderful perspective of the people around me who I might have been quick to judge differently.
***unless I’m driving, or around other people who are driving, or interacting with people who are obnoxious, or who don’t listen, or who are rude and impolite, etc etc
My takeaway from that day was that there are great things happening all around us, and it’s good to take notice and give thanks for moments of human kindness. Perhaps when we expect the best in people, we find it.