The early afternoon bus descends the near-vertical drop on Hilyard Street, then pivots down onto Pearl. We pull alongside the stop at Tamarack Pool.
The No. 24 seldom stops here. But when it does, I notice, it picks up a good sized crowd of passengers. They huddle at the stop like students at the end of the school day.
Boarding takes a while. The driver is patient.
One by one, young people step up into the bus. Each one’s caregiver boards right behind, hands firmly fixed on the shoulders, giving support and direction and a felt sense of accompaniment.
Part of me wants to observe this strange and halting procession, to bless them secretly, from behind my dark lenses, with eyes of compassion. And part of me says: Keep your nose in your magazine; give them their space.
Mostly, in this moment, I listen to the sounds, the shuffling, and the caregivers’ encouragements as everyone settles into place.
One youth rocks gently as his keeper kneels to lock the belt that secures his wheelchair to the stanchion.
Another youth takes a seat directly behind me. He wears large headphones, and makes mournful sounds.
We pull away from the stop, and I remember why I gave away my car: so that I could ride the bus with people who are not just like me.
A couple of blocks before my stop I feel a hand randomly brush through the hair on the back of my head.
Instinctively I lean forward to put my arms through the straps of my backpack.
Really, I move forward to escape the random brushing. In truth, I am grateful that my stop is coming up now.
What is it like, I wonder, to live trapped inside a body that does not work as it should, trapped inside a body that cannot hold itself erect, with arms that flail spasmodically, and legs that don’t work right?
What is it like, I wonder, to live inside a mind that may be filled with fog and noise, with loose wires and arcing bursts of light?
“Hello in there,” I want to say. But peering in, who might I encounter?
Well, Christ himself, my faith tells me. I might encounter God enfleshed, Jesus, who did not hide in the shelter of his divinity. Rather, he chose to disguise himself in “the least of these,” in the least expected places, disguised in the least treasured forms of humanity.
The encounter itself becomes a frontier, an unmistakable invitation to enter into conversation with the Other who is not really other but part of my own flesh. I am invited, as those early followers were, to “speak new languages.”
Do I really want to learn the language, cross that frontier and enter into conversation with the physically broken and the mentally trapped?
I do not want to go to that frightening place, and so I resist. At least for now. It is much easier to keep my nose in my magazine.
I can push back now. But I cannot ultimately resist the apprenticeship to which I have been summoned.
Still, I am pretty sure that this is not what Jesus has in mind when he urges his followers—when he urges me—to accompany and befriend and serve those who are “not just like me.”
Clearly I thresh about with these challenging thoughts. Despite my resistances my conscience is goaded in the direction of affirming the whole of this life of which I am a part, not sheltering myself from what-is-not-me.
My arms do not flail. My legs carry me just fine. My mind is not befuddled with fog and noise. My capacities for intentional movement and clear thought are pure gift, which comes with a sobering responsibility—to serve the good of others, to serve a greater good.
Actually, this greater good is called “the reign of God.”
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on the nature of God’s calling.