Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Light My Path, Stranger

So I need to tell you about my day.

The weather in Utah has been fickle. This morning (2 April) the sky was swirling with black clouds spitting ice onto the gray streets. Patrick and Tré agreed to give me a ride to the bus stop: their good deed for the day. I was extremely grateful.

As we pulled up to the bus stop, a woman in her fifties with long brown hair stood under a black and white patterned umbrella. I stepped out, waved goodbye, and took my place next to her to wait for the UTA Route 17. She turned to me, her face framed by her hair, and said that she had been waiting for quite some time. Her stained teeth flashed with every warm smile, an action that reached all the way to her eyes. 

Nothing like it used to be because the bus only comes every hour--it used to come every thirty minutes. She had to change her regular bus route due to a change in her schedule. Our meeting was kismet, serendipity, Fate--one of those moments you wish could have lasted just a bit longer. 

We discussed the weather, the bus route, and then she guessed at my presence at the bus stop: transportation to university. After asking about my studies—International Studies—I told her about my study abroad in France. Her face lit up with another one of those smiles that genuinely transformed her. She explained that she had grown up in Sweden, had been an exchange student to the US in her university days, met her husband here, had to return to obtain an extended visa, and almost didn’t come back.

“I did come back, and it must have been the right decision. We’re still married.” Another flash of that smile. Then, “We spent our honeymoon in France.” I’ve been all over Europe, but that’s natural. She explained that her class would take field trips to Austria when she was younger. Her brother would help her pay for the trips: they would share a paper route, and after saving up all of the money from their shared work, her brother would give her his share.

“I just couldn’t imagine how everyone else had brothers that fought with them. He was genuinely my friend and wanted to look out for me. He left to sign up for the army, but we reconnected in our adulthood. I really think it is important to be away from our loved ones in our lives. It really makes us appreciate them.”

She was wonderful. We boarded the bus, took separate seats, and she departed two stops later. Before she left, I watched her turn, search through the seats, find my gaze: she then smiled one last time and waved. I returned the gesture, and she was gone. My only regret was that I hadn’t sat next to her, I hadn’t introduced myself, nor had I registered a phantom’s hint at a name. Life offers us beautiful situations like this, and we must hold onto them for all we are worth. Without a few moments with a stranger, this wide world can start to look like a pretty terrible place. 

However, that was just the start of my day. Boo, my supervisor at the Bennion Center, texted me while I was on the bus. 
—Let’s plan on meeting for 15 minutes or so at the beginning of your office hour.
—That works perfectly. I’ll see you in a bit.

I walked into the Bennion Center, and Boo was there on the couch talking with another volunteer.
—Jesse! 
—Boo!
—Let’s take a walk.
—…Okay…

We strolled back out of the Center.
—Have you eaten breakfast yet?
—No.
—Then it’s my treat. An end of the year gift.
—You really don’t have to.
—[etc.]

I ordered the oatmeal and he ordered a shake: gotta love Jamba.
—Let’s find somewhere to sit. I need to talk to you for a minute.

We sat, then:
—I wanted to give you a gift. I’ve been thinking a lot about these gifts, and I really wanted it to mean something. You’re a religious studies major, right?
—No, but I’ve taken religious studies classes.
—Oh yeah, that’s right. And where are you with religion?
—Oh, well, actually (and I really haven’t told many people this) but I was actually baptized last August.
—What?! You shouldn’t feel ashamed, but you should’ve told me!

He then proceeded to take a Book of Mormon out of his bag. 
—I got this for you. I’ll give it to you anyway. I just wanted you to know that there is a big difference in the Church between that which is Doctrine and that which is Culture. I think you have exemplified that Doctrine since the moment we met, and I only wish I had been able to tell you earlier. Every day you show these qualities, and I want you to know that I see that. I’ve gone through and marked the passages that have impacted me, I just hope you will learn something from it.

His compliment blew me away. It is probably the highest compliment anyone has ever paid me, then he gave me the most invaluable (in his eyes) gift I could have received: faith and the [Christian] teachings. It was an overwhelming experience, to say the least. I’m not sure I could forget it. 

From there, I really couldn’t stop thinking about how my day had gone so far. My mind was reeling. I spent an hour in French, laughing and wishing that my Fairytale studies could continue much longer than this semester would allow—Professor Jones, you are spectacular. If I take anything away from the University, it will be my memory of your enthusiasm. Words are not enough to express my gratitude for the things you have taught me and the perspective you have given to me.

After class, I was back on the bus. Usually this consists of scrolling through FaceBook and Instagram until I feel my stop should be coming close. Today, the normal lurching didn’t happen. I looked up, we were heading down the hill along 9th. Quite a distance from the normal 17th. I thought I had gotten on the wrong bus, then:
—Did I do it again?! That is the second time!
As she said this, the bus driver slapped her leg and laughed—boisterous and a tad bit humiliated. 

We took a left on 13th E and she yelled back, “I’m sorry! We’ll get back on track.” 

I yelled forward, “It looks like we’re going to have an adventure today.” 

We both laughed, along with the few other passengers seated in front of me. 

As we approached my stop, I pulled the cord to signal the “Stop Requested” sign. Ding! I then watched as we proceeded to lurch through the stop light and right on passed my requested stop. I stood up and moved to the front of the bus.
—Oh! Today’s just not my day.

She almost couldn’t contain herself, she was trying so hard not to laugh. I couldn’t help but laugh and smile.
—We are having an adventure today!

I smiled and thanked her for the ride. She grabbed my elbow.
—Have a good day.

And all of this by 1:30 in the afternoon. Whew.

Again, I couldn’t help thinking that it was such a brief encounter. The people we meet every day, the people we pass on the street, all of the people. As we’ve been going through our French Fairytales, we’ve been talking a lot about “les personnages.” The characters. All of those beings that make up the story, that move the plot forward, that cause and sort out all of the problems. We discuss the relationships and the power structures, the social classes and the allusions.

I couldn’t help but wonder what role I played in the lives of those I had met today. I also wondered how they had touched me. What was gained? How had these brief or lasting relationships affected each of us? Would I ever meet any of them again? Or would the universe have only brought us close because one or the other needed it to happen? 

How do we even go about answering these questions? I am a strong believer in the power that each person holds. Each individual is a beacon (read: Lord of the Rings, fires on the mountaintops) shining bright in the fog of the chaotic life swirling around each of us. We light a limited path, but each of us sheds light on the other, illuminating those parts that each of us must experience together. 

Ainsi dit, Ainsi fait. 

Time to extinguish the lanterns and succumb to the fog: the crier called out midnight a while back.

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