Nearly every day, this aging little fella boards my bus around 3:30 in the afternoon. He asks if I think he'll be able to catch a bus that will get him to the east side of town by 7:00. After a few days of this, instead of being irritated at having to answer his daily query, I realized he must have a memory issue. He's usually disheveled, hair a mess and looks like a scared puppy. At first, I was impatient. I groaned when I saw him shuffling toward the bus with a frantic wave. He always has his pass, but he has to dig for it. I would sigh impatiently, tap my foot, and was your total jerk bus operator. After three days of this, my impatience turned inward. Is this what I've evolved into? The snarling driver people always bitch about? Tonight after my run, I just sat in my car, head hung low, as I realized how uncomfortable my actions must make this poor fellow. Shame sunk in, along with the painful fact that I'm not always as nice as I'd like people to think I am.
What if he has some sort of impairment which affects his memory? He's always apologetic, polite and tentative. Compared to some people, he's the kind of passenger I should look forward to driving. Lately, I've had some real bozos ride my lines, and it's been harder for me to be kind and gentle. This Irish temper has been sorely tested on several occasions recently and it's been very difficult to remain calm under pressure. My soul is in upheaval, because I'd hate for someone to be as impatient with me as I have been with him. He's somebody's family member. What if someone was mean to my brother, who was born with Down Syndrome? What if someone treated my brother the way I treat him? So what to do about this, Freaky Deke?
Beginning today, I resolved to turn my frown upside down (pardon the cliché) and be the person he doesn't need to fear. I've nicknamed him "Frank", the name of a dear friend of mine who while was as ornery as I am, had a heart of gold and the patience of a saint. I miss my friend, and by giving this poor soul his name, I'm going to turn myself around and quit being such an asshole. So while Frank dug through his wallet this afternoon, I told him it was okay, he could have a seat. "I know you always have your pass sir, so go ahead and have a seat."
"Thank you," he said quietly, then added "but do you think we'll make it to the transit center in time for me to get to Powell by 7:00?"
"Yes sir," I replied gently, smiling. "It's only 3:30 now, and you'll have plenty of time. Now go ahead and sit down, and I'll get you there with time to spare!"
He half-smiled, trembling, his eyes betraying a remaining trace of fear. "Oh thank you, yes I'll sit. Thank you, sir."
As I continued down the road, he rose and came up to me. "Are you sure I'll make it on time?"
"Yes. It's gonna be okay," I replied, knowing this same scene will play out again every day. If I work on it, maybe he'll lose the fear. Maybe I'll be one of few people who are kind to him. And perhaps, I won't have to kick myself for being the type of driver I said I'd never be.
When he de-boarded at the transit center, he turned back around as always, waited for people to board, and thanked me again. Then he asked if his next bus will pick him up at that stop, which I assured him with a smile and a nod. Once more, he thanked me several times. He seemed slightly more at ease.
Of all the people we transport daily, there's no real way of knowing how many are scared to death, fighting illness or inner demons. It's hard sometimes to remember patience. It is, after all, part of my mantra to be kind, thoughtful and patient. We're often treated to a large ration of rude, and it's hard to avoid becoming jaded. But I'm ashamed of myself for allowing it to happen. Life is full of bad news, hard times and mean people. Why must I be one of them? There's no excuse, but there is redemption.
That old song, "What the World Needs Now, Is Love Sweet Love" comes to mind. Not just for some, but for everyone, it says. Another thing I need to remind myself of is that we are judged by how we treat those with the least, and I am blessed with so much to be thankful for.
I'm sorry, Frank. You deserve better from me. From now on, you'll have it.