The other morning, I sprinted three blocks in a suit and dress shoes to catch my bus and just barely made it before the bus pulled away. As I walked down the aisle breathing heavily, I passed a young, striking, African-American woman, who spoke in a high, Disney princess-like voice and asked, “How is your day going, sir?”
I walked past her and bluntly said, “Not too well.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that!” she said gaily, with a strange look in her eyes that indicated she was not well mentally.
I groaned inside, hoping she wouldn’t try to talk to me anymore. The D.C. public transportation system has its fair share of mentally ill people, and I wasn’t in the mood to be her conversational guinea pig that morning. But I didn’t have to worry about that – she shifted her attention to a black male who sat down across from her.
“Hello there!” she said, “Where are you from?”
“Ethiopia,” he replied.
“Oh I love Ethiopians,” she said, launching into an awkward diatribe about how gorgeous all Ethiopians are. It was obvious the man was getting uncomfortable, but she didn’t seem to care.
“How do you get to Ethiopia from here?” she asked.
“On a plane,” he replied.
“Does it go over the ocean?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Oh no!” she cried. “I could never fly on a plane. It could crash in the water. I would need drugs to knock me out, or I could never, ever do it.”
At this point, the man began pretending to talk on his cell phone, and the other passengers on the bus began staring at her. I felt sorry for her, but at the same time, she just kept being so weird that the awkwardness was inevitable.
When the bus got close to my stop, I moved back to the front, and the woman said, “Sir! Should I take drugs?”
“What?” I asked.
“Should I take drugs if I ever get on a plane? I don’t think I could fly any other way. I’m too afraid of dying.”
Something in me wanted to turn back around and ignore her question; but an unexpected kindness overtook me, and I just decided to roll with it and have the conversation.
“You don’t have to take drugs to get on a plane,” I said sincerely. “People almost never die in planes.”
“I know,” I said, “but the reason that happened was because the pilot put too much cargo on the plane, which was really small. That’s not going to happen to you if you fly on a commercial flight.”
“You don’t think so? You really think I can do it?” she asked.
“Sure I do,” I said. “You can totally do this.”
As the lady and I continued chatting, I noticed that the other passengers were loosening up and starting to smile as they listened to our very public conversation, which was cut short when we came to my stop. As I said goodbye to my new friend, I strongly sensed that God had met me there in that conversation – that He had met all of us there.
It made me think that there must be dozens of opportunities I miss each week to experience His presence like that – and that perhaps, if I’m going to experience His presence in that way again, I should get excited the next time I encounter someone who’s grating on my nerves, someone who makes me want to run.
I mean, I know it’s going to happen again sooner or later – maybe with someone at work, at home, or with another stranger. And when it does, I pray He’ll give me the grace to plunge into that person’s reality for a moment and experience His love for both of us in our weaknesses.