As I was preparing to get off my bus yesterday, in order to change to a different one, I was blocked from exiting by another passenger. As I excused myself for requiring her to move, she said that she too was getting off at the same stop. And then I saw she had a two year old daughter on her other side who I hadn’t even noticed.
As we got off the bus, I held the door open for her and her child and then we entered the mall whereupon she opened the door for me and I held it for her. And then there was another door (I guess we were going the same way) and the routine repeated itself. And with each door we went through, the woman thanked me very directly and graciously while navigating the pedestrian traffic with her toddler in hand. I was so touched by her manners and gratitude that for a moment I thought I could have a really fulfilling day if I were to spend it holding open doors for mothers and their young children or seniors with their shopping bags. Of course, it was only a fleeting thought but one polite woman on a bus made me feel a bit better about the world for a few minutes.
A little while later, when I was on the next bus, I watched as another young woman exited from the back door and then had to hoist her young child over what remained of a snowbank to get safely to the sidewalk. I couldn’t hear what the child or mom was saying (and the child was also only about two so I don’t think the conversation was too complicated) but I could see the mom smile at first and then burst into a fit of laughter. I had no idea what made her laugh but it was so natural and unguarded that it was a scene I found perfectly understandable without words or music. And for some reason I pictured this mother and son decades into the future, at his graduation or wedding, and her feeling verklempt about moments they had shared like the one I’d just witnessed.
As I neared my home stop and tore myself away from my phone for a moment, I became aware of the two occupants in the seat directly in front of me. In the aisle seat was yet another mother and to her right, sitting by the window, was a little girl. The girl wore a fitted knit cap and sunglasses twice as wide as her face and instantly it put a smile on my face. She looked like a cartoon character. A ridiculously cute cartoon character.
She was looking out the window as though she were watching a movie and every few seconds, as the bus moved, the frame changed and she had an altogether different and unfamiliar picture to discover. After a few minutes, she noticed me sitting behind them and I complimented her on her sunglasses. Her mother then removed them so that her daughter could properly introduce herself. She said, “hi”. And I said, “hi”. And then she said it again. And so did I. And then it was her turn once more and then it was mine. I began to think it was the only word she knew and I felt privileged that she was sharing it with me. But my stop soon came and as I prepared to leave she surprised me by saying, “bye”. Her mother told her to wave and so she did.
While I understand that the little girl with the big sunglasses wouldn’t have remembered our exchange ten seconds after it occurred, I carried it with me for the rest of the day. And the lady who walked through doors with me, and the lady who laughed without restraint at something her toddler said, they along with the mother and child who said hi and waved goodbye to a stranger on the bus, reminded me of something I too easily forget. That although the world might sometimes seem like it’s on the verge of catastrophe or collapse when we stay lost in our screens, in some small and quiet corners of it, the world is still only beginning. And it’s doing so in the same way it always has.