Friday, November 21, 2014

The lady on the bus, and why I routinely unplug

On a recent morning on my trek to work, I decided to ride the bus. I've been doing that lately to get familiar with the bus system in the area, an area we recently moved to. And the weather's been dropping snow and leaving freezing ice patches on long stretches of the bike paths. So why not?

This morning, the bus was about half full with one person sitting in each two-person seat. They were all perfectly spaced apart, even along the ambulance style benches, like some invisible force was keeping them a few feet from each other. Turns out, that 'force' is called personal space and the preferred distance - at least in the United States - is about four feet apart.

But I digress.

I sat down - without 'noticing' the person lest I respond to some subconscious bias or prejudice and shy away or gravitate toward them; I like to put myself into different situations - and found myself sitting next to an elderly woman. After a few seconds of quiet she says to me, "I like your green coat." I thanked her and smiled warmly, briefly mentioning that a friend had given it to me and I was grateful for the warmth it was providing and that it was rather hip nowadays to have highlighter bright clothing.

Without missing a beat, she launched into a story about her late husband (who I surmised had been dead a great many years) who, clear back in the 1960s and 70's would sew extremely bright patches onto all his clothing. It was one of the things she found odd but also attractive about him - that he felt comfortable enough to stand out in a crowd. And he was always very noticeable skiing down the slopes. How she noticed that in Europe, people seemed to think all grey outfits were the hip thing at some point in time and how she liked all grey outfits as she thought they made her look royal.

I mentioned how I had noticed in the UK some 10 years back that men seemed to favor salmon and pink and purple shirts and ties and such, very different than what was popular in America at the time.

Again, without missing a beat, she ran with the conversation mentioning that she once saw Wes Welker wearing a salmon-colored jacket (or was it a pink shirt?) and how those around him teased him for wearing pink and how he was such a nice young boy and how "the thugs" on the NFL's New England Patriots protected him when he was on their team but how they'd ganged up on him and tried to hit him hard now that we was on the Denver Broncos team and how unfortunate it was that just because he wore a salmon-colored jacket that "the thugs, the worst of them being their head thug Bill Belichick" were now targeting him. And wasn't it too bad that he got another concussion and that he seemed to be getting old for wide receivers in the NFL and she hoped he retired after this year but wondered what he might do with his life after retirement and she would bet his wife would feed him almonds and he was such a nice and friendly and good kid and how she didn't really follow anything in the NFL and how strange it was that she knew all this stuff about the NFL and Wes Welker but he's such a nice kid, dontchaknow.
Denver Bronco's wide receiver Wes Welker in his salmon-colored jacket.
I guess she had a lot of conversation stored up. That was fine by me. She obviously was craving interaction with others. And I was happy to listen and interact.

We exchanged a bit more conversation before I reached my bus stop. I wished her a blessed day and she said she was glad for the conversation. She bid me adieu and called me Mr. Green. I bid her adieu and called her Ms. Grey.

I'm pretty sure none of this lovely interaction would have happened if I had had my bright red earbuds stuck in my ears listening to the news like I usually do on my way to work. But an interaction with my beloved bride this morning had me thinking and I thought it best to leave my phone in my pocket and just reflect (which is my typical evening habit on my way home from work). I'm sure glad I had that conversation with my wife this morning, listened to my intuition and unplugged from my routine. I don't want to become another zombie. Or lose my ability to interact with others. Face to face. Plugged in but alone. Worse yet, I don't want to get in the habit of fleeing from conversations with strangers.

I'm glad I unplugged. It was a remarkable thing. Because life, at its best and for all its shortcomings, is happening right in front of me.