Sunday morning. It’s a rainy, windy, stormy day, with wet people packed into a BART car. I’m on one of the trains coming from SFO, so it is full of lots and lots of tourists, all suitcases and tiredness, ready to check into their hotels and see the sights.
A man stands by the door, the only person with lots of space around him. He tells us he is hungry. He tells us that if our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, or our sisters were hungry and had nowhere to go, we would want someone to help them. He’s very matter of fact. He tells us that he doesn’t even care about the money, and he tells us that the hardest thing in his day is being ignored. He tells us that even a smile or a “good luck” makes a difference. He tells us if one of our kids is ever on the street, and he hopes that they never are, that we would want people to acknowledge that they exist. He says people acting like he isn’t even there is the worst part of everything.
Stone faces stare ahead, painfully obvious in attempts not to look at this man, not to catch his eye. Most are hearing, how can you avoid his voice, but most don’t seem to be listening. Some folks look at him only when his back is turned to them, furtive glances before he turns around again. Some have fear in their eyes. Some look weary, and some have perfected a mask of apathy. Some don’t know enough English to understand what he is saying, this clean cut but somewhat strange young black man. Some folks catch the eye of their companions, or the eye of others on the train they think they have something in common with, and try not to laugh, or they exchange that look. You know the one I mean, a small widening of the eye, a small clenching of the lips.
Good people forgetting to put their goodness into real life practice.
It is Sunday morning, and it strikes me that if I still went to church I might hear a similar message.The dude is basically giving a love thy neighbor sermon. The dude is in fact living a love thy neighbor sermon. What luck to meet him.
I heave myself up, all my bags full of drums and outfits and notes for a music gig I am on my way to play. I do this all the time, that is, I talk to people in public. Stranger danger? Nah. I have good instincts. My partner pointed out recently as we watched my mom chat up some folks that I must get it from her, which I had never realized until that moment. We talk to people, and we somehow find the other people that want to talk to strangers in public, and we get to meet all sorts of folks and hear stories that we wouldn’t otherwise. Thanks mom, for never giving me a fear of talking to strangers.
Because of this, and maybe you know what I am about to say because you talk to strangers, too, I can tell you there is always this moment where the other folks who saw you as one of them realize you are going to engage with the other, and they turn against you. Suddenly maybe you are a little crazy, too, the wonder ‘what is she going to do’, there is a fission and a bit of excitement and fear and a sense of total awareness of being watched, even as they won’t look you in the eye now, either. I hand the dude a a couple bucks and quietly say ‘Thanks for the words and reminders, stay dry, and good luck’. He smiles and says ‘Thank you’, I sit back down. No big whoop, a normal day in San Francisco. No one on the train moves. We are in a car full of statues surrounded by huge suitcases, like armor.
He is getting off at Civic Center, and as we get closer to his stop he tells us he knows how to say thank you in 13 languages, and then he proves it before he walks off the train, head held high.