There's a scene that I see from time to time riding the Gainesville bus system. A middle aged, I assume homeless man tries to board carrying a few plastic trash bags with him. His shoes are falling apart, the bags seem heavy and stuffed. The drivers often tell him that they are not allowed to take him unless he leaves them behind. But sometimes they take pity on him and let him get on, even getting the wheelchair lift out him so it'd be easier for him to take his belongings. I've heard that he collects actual trash. People have seen roaches coming out of the bags he carries. When he is told to throw them out not much later he replaces them with a different set. Just as stuffed and as heavy as the ones before. If you've lived in Gainesville long enough you probably know him by name. And you get used to seeing him as he says hello passing by. You never know when and where he's going to pop up next, as I've seen him trying to get on buses going in all directions. He is quite a fixture and he likes to talk to random students he meets on the bus. Most of the time they respond, engage in conversations, probably curious who this strange person might be. Where's the story in this you might say? The uplifting part is that most of the riders and respectful, kind and softspoken when talking to him. They even do small things for him like call someone on their phone when he asks. He seems and is harmless, but his attire and yes, smell is off-putting to some. Many are kind enough not to notice, but on one occasion I saw a girl cry as soon as he got off the bus. They were having a nice conversation. She was polite, he wanted to know as always, what she was in school for and told one of her stories. But then he left. As soon and she started to cried I turned to her and asked what was wrong. She explained that as much as she wanted to focus on him as a person, his needs, stories and problems, she couldn't get pass the way he smelled. She was very disappointed with herself, that she couldn't ignore it completely. Sadden, angry and surprised by her own reaction she started to cry. I guess she felt like a failure, because she couldn't separate the body from the spirit. Although we are told that beauty is on the inside and the outside doesn't make a man she couldn't bring herself to do it. She wasn't disrespectful- but she wanted to be better than all of those that would judge him. For all that we are told about loving others unconditionally, helping those in need, she couldn't unconditionally accept him, because of something as trivial as smell. I told her she was being too hard on herself. I thought it was amazing that she would even have an afterthought like this, but we really can't help how we react to certain things. It doesn't make us bad people. Yes, it's good to have an ideal in our head about how we are going to be relating to other people. But we are not perfect. And we don't control how we feel. Perhaps sometimes our own behavior surprises us. Maybe we don't know ourselves the way we did. Maybe how we see ourselves doesn't always match how others do and the image in our head is different from what we project. I think we all like to think of ourselves as most open, most accepting, most giving, most loving. We'd like to think of ourselves as evolved. But we are all flawed. And I think part of the process of learning who you are comes from accepting that you are only human. Humans make mistakes.
She was more evolved than she allowed herself to seem. She observed beyond his scent to take a hard look at her own humanity. She will do better next time, because she clearly cares.ReplyDelete