Public Transit Epiphany

Thinking about the Montgomery bus boycott last week reminded me of my own life-changing bus moment. Though the two incidents are as different as can be in terms of the scopes of their impacts, they both have something to do with human equality–which is perhaps why I dare to mention them in the same sentence.

The actual moment described below occurred years ago, in San Francisco, but some of the reflections have evolved since then, as I’ve moved from a city where transit ridership is diverse in many ways, including socioeconomically, to places where public transit is often regarded as a dividing line between haves and have-nots.

I’m going to go ahead and confess that I’ve struggled a bit with this piece. It’s been difficult to get the tone right, and to communicate a bit of the awe I felt in the face of such a specific and unexpected reminder of a principle I believe but don’t always think about during day-to-day interactions: the notion that each human being, no matter their circumstances, has significance and a story–whether that story is consumed and shared by millions or largely played out before an audience of One. I’m still not sure I’ve got it right.

One more preliminary remark… I believe in God, and these reflections incorporate that belief. However, I recognize that belief in God is not a prerequisite for belief in universal human value, and I am grateful to know many people who, while they do not share my religious convictions, embrace and act upon (often better than I do) the understanding that all people matter equally. Now, without further stalling…

Public Transit Epiphany

I look around—
surreptitiously, of course—
at two dozen or so
fellow travelers,
and I am struck by the thought that—
bluntly speaking—
they mean nothing to me.

I have never met any of them before
(technically, I haven’t even met them now),
it’s unlikely I’ll encounter any of them again—
or recognize them if I do—
and I haven’t the faintest idea
what their respective stories

What twist of plot
brought each of them
to this time and place
where our paths have aligned
for the briefest
and seemingly least consequential
of chapters?

Scanning again—
and this time registering
the mismatched outfits,
missing teeth,
and matted hair
of several of these late-night riders—
it saddens me to think
that some of them
may not have anyone
to whom they do mean something.

That’s when my perspective veers
onto a different course,
and suddenly these nameless strangers
come to mean a great deal to me—
for they are living reminders
that, if there is truth to the belief I profess,
each soul aboard this bus
matters beyond measure
to the One who watches over all of us.

Regardless of our anonymity
to one another,
each of us is known to Him
as the protagonist
of a most important tale,
living an arc
just as crucial
to the ever-unfolding
narrative of humanity
as those traveled by the bravest explorer,
the most brilliant scientist,
the wealthiest businessperson,
the strongest athlete
and the most talented artist.

As our coach lurches forward,
I am simultaneously comforted
and challenged
by the conviction—
long held, and now poignantly illustrated—
that each of us is cherished equally
by One to whom value is not relative—
whose esteem can neither be increased
by fame, fortune or beauty
nor decreased
by obscurity, poverty, decrepitude
or even the need
to make use
of public transportation.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers