For the most part riding the bus has been a good experience. When you take babies out in public, and what is more public than public transportation, you set yourself up to need much grace from that public. And almost every time I’ve carried a stroller or a baby on the bus, I’ve gotten it. People have helped me lift one thing or another and many times have relinquished their seats to my children.
Yesterday we rode a new bus line. My daughter and I had to run an errand on Geary, so we decided to take the 38 line into Moms’ group at church.
When I saw the double bus coming and packed, I knew I was in for a different experience. My daughter and I hopped on through the back door of the front bus. I was immediately assaulted by the smell of pot.
(“How do you know what pot smells like?!” my mother asks.
“I’m 34, Mom,” said with an eye roll.)
But, sure enough, a kind woman in front of me hops up and offers me the chair right in front of the door. I thank her and sit down, tucking the stroller between my knees. And that’s when I realize I’ve got pot guy on my left.
My daughter’s holding on to the pole, but asks a few times if she could sit down. It’s almost a whine, really. Her cries fall upon my desensitized heart of stone. I know the depths of energy this girl is capable of calling forth. She can stand on the bus. But her cries do affect, and deeply, the softer and squishier heart of the Chinese lady on my right, who scoots over to make a small space between us.
This kindness I feel obliged to allow her, though I hate seeing my strong-legged kids sitting on a crowded bus when much older and needier people are standing, but since no one else is going to try to squeeze between me and this Chinese lady I scoot over a little, too, which puts me shoulder to shoulder with the smelly guy.
Baby has been cooing and calling this whole time. Holding hands and reaching out to the kind lady who gave us her seat which is, I hope, ample payment for her kindness, all smiles and high-fives. He grabs unto her finger, reaching out for her when she lets go.
And then Baby turns around and starts playing with the guy at my shoulder, the guy right in front of him, reeking of pot so bad I wonder if the Moms’ group will smell it on me when I arrive. But I let my baby perform his ministry.
The guy rallies. He tries to shake off his dull spirit; he sits up straighter and tries to look alert. His eyes are terribly bloodshot and he looks like he knows it. He takes Baby’s hand and glances at me to make sure this is okay. I smile approval, but our faces are too close to look at him directly.
He’s a young man, scruffy, in a green pullover. He receives high fives and smiles for a minute before clearing his throat a couple of times and asking, “What’s his name?”
I tell him, “But I call him Bill sometimes,” I say, “Because he’s got Bill Murray hair and makes me laugh.”
We start chatting because the Baby keeps demanding his attention and I really can’t move him anywhere where he won’t be able to grab this guy.
As it turns out, Baby’s buddy is from Spokane, where I went to college, new to San Francisco as of last November. He works at Trader Joe’s and as a bartender. We chatted for a bit.
I really have no idea what life must be like for this guy. What would it be like working two jobs, serving strange people in a bar after dark, living a life full of artificial light, with no family to come home to?
The guy has a finger claimed by Baby who won’t let go. He looks at Baby and gets an almost sad look in his eyes.
“Is he a social baby? He seems like he’s a social baby.”
I laugh. “Yes,” I say, “He’s a very social baby.”
Baby lets him go and throws himself around to find his other friend, the lady who gave us her seat, and reaches out for her again.
“That’s good,” the guy says quietly, “I was a social baby.”
I wonder at the exchange. That this guy with tired bloodshot eyes could find himself again in the friendly
motions of an exuberant one-year old. Did he need to be reminded?
We get off shortly after and I am reminded that I will never know the effect of my ministry on this earth, nor that of my babies.
And who’s to say that only spiritual gifts minister? Who’s to say that the exact personality God gave you isn’t an answer to a very specific need in the world? It wasn’t a mistake that God made you this way or that.
It wasn’t a mistake that my kid grabs everyone on the bus.