There’s nothing like trying to get on a loaded city bus when there’s a mob of people waiting at the bus stop. When that happens, everybody just crams into the bus and surrenders their personal space – well, most people do.
The other day when I got on the bus, I ended up next to this middle-aged mom and her son, who was carrying a skateboard and looked to be about 11 years old. I noticed that she had her arm wrapped around his waist tightly and was clutching his side with her hand.
The bus stopped and another load of people got on, forcing everyone to pack into the bus more tightly, so I let go of the rail overhead and started to move back.
“Watch his face!” his mother snapped at me.
I didn’t know what she was talking about. I didn’t even get close to her son.
“You need to be careful – you almost hit his face,” she said.
I assumed he was medically fragile or something; but it didn’t make sense because he looked like a healthy boy, and he was carrying a skateboard, so presumably, he had put his face at risk before.
Things Heat Up
Another guy in a Best Buy shirt assumed my spot next to the kid and held onto the overhead rail with both hands.
“Watch his face!” the mother snapped at the new guy. “You’re gonna hit him in the face.”
The Best Buy guy rolled his eyes, let go of the rail, and didn’t say anything; but I was saying all kinds of things in my head. When the guy had to move further back into the bus and stood next to me, I quietly said, “Careful – you don’t want to hit his face.”
The guy quietly laughed and said, “I know, right?”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” yelled the woman, who apparently overheard us. “I can’t believe two grown men like you would pick on a woman with a little kid. You could’ve hurt him!”
“Get a car if you don’t know how to ride a bus with other people,” said the Best Buy guy. This sparked a verbal match between him and the woman over whether her demands for personal space were reasonable. All the while, I was getting more and more annoyed with her, but her son just kept staring out the window, expressionless.
“You two would never have said anything if I were a man – you cowards!” she yelled, and that’s when I finally jumped in.
“If you were a man, you wouldn’t have said anything to us,” I said.
This set off a new round of insults from her, along with reminders to us that her son was “just a little kid” and we were a couple of bullies who could have hurt him. The whole tirade was completely over-the-top; and finally, in the midst of her yelling, I interrupted her and said exactly what I thought: “You know what? I feel sorry for your son.”
She fired back a couple of insults after that, but it didn’t matter. I had delivered the hardest blow, and although I felt a little uneasy about it, I was glad I had put her in her place – until about five minutes after I got off the bus.
The Magnitude of Our Careless Words
After I got home, the picture of that boy kept haunting me in my mind. I could see him standing there holding his skateboard, blankly staring out the window with his mother’s arm digging into his waist.
I feel sorry for your son.
I began to think about how it must have felt for him to hear a man say that about him, about his mother. I thought about how it must have felt for him to hear two grown men arguing with his mother who, no doubt, was humiliating him and emasculating him for reasons that probably run deeper than anyone understands. And it occurred to me that, to the degree I might ever have another opportunity to share Christ’s love with her in the future, it didn’t matter – I had my chance to share it with her that day by keeping my mouth shut, and I didn’t.
I hope I remember that kid the next time I’m in a high-stress situation and it seems absolutely essential to verbalize my thoughts to someone who appears to be in the wrong. Because when I look back over the times I’ve angrily mouthed off at someone else, it never ever bears good fruit. And the reason those kinds of reactions never bear good fruit is because they’re steeped in self-righteousness.
Self-righteousness doesn’t care about making a difference; it cares about making a point. It doesn’t care how it affects other people; it cares whether those people are properly put in their place. Self-righteousness cares about winning rather than loving, so it leaves a trail of dead bodies behind and never looks back – because after all, those folks were wrong anyway.
Let’s you and me do the rest of the world a favor: the next time we’re at odds with a stranger, a family member, a coworker – whomever – and we know we’re right and they’re wrong, let’s just shut up and ask God to speak in the silence and reveal any pride, arrogance, or self-righteousness in us. Perhaps if we go to Him sincerely, in that silence, we will not only learn something about ourselves, we will probably spare other people from unnecessary pain.
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God’s love didn’t always stop Jesus from putting people in their place, who needed it.
Jesus spoke the truth in love – not out of pride. Telling the truth out of an loveless attitude of self-righteousness doesn’t look anything like Him, no matter how wrong the other person may be.
I remember a similarly silly person in a crowded lift like this in London’s metro system who was getting grumpy about people crowding him. I privately thought to myself that he was using a mode of transport to which he was ill-suited, but I could not think of a diplomatic way of explaining that to him, so I just stayed quiet. Seriously though, if people cannot handle crowds, some methods of transport are unsuitable. I wonder what this lady would think of the Tokyo metro, where pushers are employed to push people in so that the doors can close.
Thank you so much for posting this. This is exactly what I needed to read. It is more important to love them than put them in their place.
Required reading about failed interactions on buses: “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor
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