Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Front Of The Bus

I spend two hours of my day commuting to and from school. I walk down to the end of my street, flag down the trusty 16 GO Bus, and head to Union Station in Toronto. When I arrive at Union Station I walk, on average, 13 minutes until I arrive at school where I spend hours learning about baking to then reverse the journey back home. While embarking on my commuting adventure I’ve made a point to make mental notes about the wonderfully interesting individuals I’ve had the pleasure of observing and interacting with.

On days I travel back to Hamilton alone, I generally choose to sit at the font of the bus. It’s easy to get on and off, and since I tend to have a lot of stuff with me from my baking lab, the very front is a seat with the most space for all my baked goods and schoolbooks. As soon as I ask if I can sit beside the individual who also chose to sit at the front, and we cease our general chit-chat about having a lot of stuff and how it’s easier to sit up front instead of wander to the back of the bus, I expect the pleasantries of small-talk to subside and for each of us to go about our own activities— which for me, is sleeping.

While this may be the end of small talk, my expectancy of sleep is often met with the reality of conversations extending the length of the bus ride, with snacks shared and adventures revealed. 

One of my first experiences sitting at the front of the bus led me to meet a lovely older lady who shared her vegetable tray with me. It was funny—she opened up her snack and just offered me some. She told me how she didn’t like celery (which was perfect as I love celery) and there we sat—eating vegetables on the bus while she shared with me how she was going to Hamilton to meet with some immediate family before they all headed south to visit extended family. While my first thought was ‘I wanted to sleep’ (wow, how ungrateful!), it changed to ‘Man these are good veggies’, then finally transitioned to where I was genuinely surprised this kind lady would want to share her food with me—just a random girl sitting beside her.

One recent experience in particular I found to be the most amazing.

I sat down next to a lady at the front of the bus and after the generic small talk I offered her a freshly baked cookie. She retrieved a piece of Kleenex from her purse, took a chocolate dipped vanilla shortbread cookie from the box, and very politely started eating it. We briefly chatted about how I am in school and began to discuss her: her life and her recent life-changing experience with her daughter. She is a children’s book author who moved to Hamilton after living in Pennsylvania for a while after she fled from Afghanistan with her family. She moved with her husband, who has a heart condition, and her daughter. The most random detail of our conversation was how we share the same name. I found out, where she is from, Aelea means ‘a woman of great distinction’.

Being a refugee, fleeing from Afghanistan due to the war, her life has been full of unbelievable trials. Being an author, she has a way with words, and was asked to share her story at McMaster University about immigrating to Canada—the challenges she faced and the ones she still encounters. While speaking with no emotions held back, she looked out into the audience and found a face she recognized—her teenage daughter was sitting in the audience with tears in her eyes.  As a mother, she hadn’t shared her struggles with her daughter—she has been strong for her child, never letting on things were hard, never showing her personal battles to keep her daughter feeling safe, secure and welcomed into this new country and new place they decided to call home.

Her daughters’ words to her after the presentation were simply that she didn’t know. She had no idea her mother was going through these things, how she faced challenges, and how she was continually overcoming them in the countless ways she was.

I don’t know why she chose to share this story but I’m glad she did. It’s eye opening, inspiring and challenging when anyone shares a personal story with the glamour stripped away and naked honesty standing there speaking every word. The conversation shifted to how her daughter loves baking, and she asked if she could buy a box of my cookies. I gave her all I had and the bag I was carrying them in and when I left she said, if it were God’s will, perhaps we would meet again.

Sometimes I don’t have the opportunity to have in depth conversations—the bus driver who see’s me standing under the tree and pulls over without me having to wave the bus down can leave the same impact as the person I’m sitting next to who shares mints. The observation of the lady who gets off a bus and gives her transfer pass to a young mother waiting with her child at the stop says more in her brief actions than any words I would imagine uttering to her or her to I. The lady getting onto the bus to audition for a gospel choir elective at University is someone who shared with me one piece of her unique story.

All these people, whose interactions are small in the grand scheme of my day, week and semester, make the commute worthwhile. Everyone can leave an impact, even without words, and it’s important we look for those moments, listen with intent to those who are speaking, and always sit near the front of the bus—because it’s those little moments I don’t want to miss.