Public Transport. It’s an interesting community.
I am fascinated by the people who choose to sit in the front left hand seat on the bus. They come in several varieties, but let’s call one Joe. Joe springs onto the bus with practised ease. He will have vaulted from the curb and half way through his mid-air-arc will have reached for the grab rail and swung effortlessly into ‘his seat’. Joe won’t sit beside the window; in fact he will barely sit at all. His object is to get as close to the driver as he can without actually blocking the aisle. Leaning forward from the corner of the front left hand seat, Joe’s conversation began even before his threadbare denim hit vinyl: “…so I sold it to him for a hundred bucks, not what it was worth of course, geez it was worth ten times more, I was givin it away. Nice enough bloke but he had no idea, no idea! I even had to show him how to start it……” etc etc etc. The striking thing is the continuity, as if this topic was well underway only minutes before. The bus driver knows Joe pretty well I reckon, and plays his part to perfection. Just as he does for Jane, who presents in an altogether different manner.
Jane, let’s call her Jane, is somewhat older, wiser (we know this because she shares her wisdom with one and all), and less agile. But what she lacks in athleticism, she more than meets with her superior voice. Jane can be heard clearly in the back right hand seat; and the endless intricacies of her extended family, in whom she despairs considerably, have become our daily bread. To her great vexation all her many relatives appear to have “stupid doctors”, who fail to diagnose for years what she saw so plainly all along. Most, perhaps all of her topics are medical. If they don’t start in a hospital ward, they generally end there, and her grasp of all things medicinal is prodigious. The world is certainly a challenge for Jan, but happily, as all her fellow passengers know, she is more than equal to the task!
Pillory and parody, they do come easily, don’t they? But I ought not speak of my friends like this: like it or not, these people are my community.
You know those interesting men and women who drive large, battered power wheelchairs, often highly decorated in a bric-a-brac theme? Tinsel from last Christmas, a flashing light perhaps, footy colours always, and rabbit ears left from Easter before last … that sort of thing. They sell The Big Issue at Flinders Street Station. One I have met sings a sort of monotone Karaoke, also at Flinders Street, to an amplifier that is hidden somewhere in the bric-a-brac. Others have large trays attached to their chairs, on which their hands wander in a life of their own; and some move their chairs with their forehead or by blowing in a straw. They have insufficient funds for good teeth, or, for that matter, good hair. Many of them travel on their own, with no helpful companion in sight, despite their significant challenges. These are my friends also. They aren’t, to my shame, friends I have ever sought out. But they seek me out, by gum they do. Anyone in a wheelchair would catch their eye, but having a head rest on mine, and one or two complicated devices besides, identifies me as one of their own. The come to chat on trains, on platforms, bustops, anywhere.
These folk are a part of the public transport community, they are part of my world, they are my community. They talk to me, those that can talk, with a grip on reality that I find almost frightening in its tenacity. This is true, somehow, even with those whose reality is clearly skewed. I’d like to say that they are happy people, but that is only sometimes true. What they are though, even the oddest, is utterly real. It’s a reality that I know I would once have turned away from, or engaged only briefly; and I can’t help thinking that they talk to me because they have given up trying to befriend the average biped as they rush to and from their important careers.
I travel at the front of the bus in a wheelchair, and it truly is a different world. To enter this community is a privilege that you may never know: there are so few of us, and vacancies at the front of the bus rarely come up!
This is a difficult thing to learn: we can’t choose our community, in fact it chooses us. Australians seem to have a particular problem with this, and we are now being watched by the civilized world as we behave barbarically towards many who dare to flee from horrors and turn our way. While we drag Japan through the international courts, at a cost of many millions of dollars, attempting to end their inhumanity to whales; we flaunt international treaties on the rights of refugees which are upheld in the very same courts. We are signatories to these important, enlightened documents, and yet, in the words of our political leaders, “we choose to take a different view”.
I digress. The hard thing to learn is that in the end our community will find us, somehow, and we will either welcome them warmly as our brothers and sisters, or we will shrink back behind barriers of our own making and hope to be left alone. (I can feel another digression coming on: isn’t that largely the story of 2 centuries of Australian history?)
I think – I am not certain about this yet – but I think that the single outstanding issue in both the Old and New Testament is hospitality. Not sin, not salvation, not even grace and redemption. Not sacrifice, definitely not law, and not holiness either. Just hospitality; a simple thing that we might also know as kindness, or love. More on this another time perhaps, if my readers will put up with something bordering on a sermon.
It has taken me several years, sitting at the front of the bus, to open my eyes wide enough to perceive my friends. I admit, shamefully, that I tried to ignore them in the past. I have smiled and quickly looked away. I have let my breathing apparatus stand as an excuse for withholding a civil greeting. I have done my level best to show by my brisk, decisive independence; by my competence pushing my wheelchair; by my haughty refusals of any help offered; that I am not one of them. I can tell you honestly that I have seen the hurt in their eyes when I have done that to them, when I have said without words, “I am not like you”.
But, you see, I am.
I’ve been encouraged along with my blog by my own son’s entry into this genre.
Check him out here, and drop me a line too.