Last November, I was riding the bus home on a cold winter night, and I noticed a chatty, elderly, African-American man as I walked toward the front. He seemed to be the only person who was interested in what he was saying, and I felt suspicious.
It’s too bad that living in Washington, D.C., has made me suspicious of talkative people (Lord knows how many people are suspicious of my inordinate southern friendliness). But the thing is, when you’re on the bus and someone is trying to be your buddy, something funky is usually going on.
Somebody’s going to try to sell you a bootlegged copy of a movie or ask for money or start talking about aliens. I know that’s not totally fair—I’ve actually met some decent folks on the bus before—but generally speaking, the friendly folks are up to something weird.
This guy wanted to talk though, so I just humored him as I waited to get to my stop. But then—I don’t know why—I started to feel gentler towards him; I actually started caring about what he was saying. And then something happened: we connected.
He said, “You know, I’ve been around the world three times. I don’t never want to leave this country.”
“And I don’t want you to leave this country,” I said. “We need you here.”
“I want to be needed,” he said quietly.
“We all do,” I replied, and then we said goodbye before I stepped off the bus. I was sad the conversation ended so quickly.
Gods and Goddesses
It would’ve been easy to walk past that guy on the bus and avoid him—in fact, that’s what I often do with the peculiar folks on the bus: look away, don’t engage. We all do it though—and it’s not just on public transportation. Sometimes it’s with the awkward guy at church, or when we’re dealing with the uninspired cashier at Wal-Mart, or the stinky-faced mom at soccer practice. With all these people, there’s more there than we realize.
C.S. Lewis put it best when he said:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people.
You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.
But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5, NIV).