[Photo by Matthew Wiebe]
This morning, I got on the bus as usual. The sun was shining, which was unusual. The driver smiled, which is also a bit unusual (why so grumpy, bus drivers of Leeds?). But everything else? Was usual.
A couple of stops along, a woman sat next to me. Her phone rang. I don't like to eavesdrop (who am I kidding, of course I do, but I don't like people to think I do), but her conversation was the only noise on the otherwise silent bus. It was her mother on the other end, and from what I could gather from a rather one-sided conversation, she (the mother) was in respite care and unhappy about it. The woman next to me, on her way to work, could do nothing about that fact, of course. But she listened and reassured. She asked her mother to stop crying, and she said she would visit tomorrow.
I was in awe of this women. To have that much stress put upon you before you even get to work in the morning is no easy feat. But I also felt a bit paralysed. She was clearly upset (the mother, but also the woman next to me) but this was a private conversation - even if it was happening in such a public arena. I was torn - to reach out and pat her arm as I would to a friend who was having that conversation next to me, offer an acknowledgement and perhaps a comfort, or to stay silent and not get in her business. It's still plaguing me now, because I, of course, stayed silent.
I wanted to tell her that she was doing a great job. That she was a wonderful daughter. That things must be tough but, as my Grandma says, this too shall pass. Keep on keeping on. Can I buy you a coffee or maybe a hot chocolate stuffed with cream and marshmallows to bring a smile to your day? But we don't talk on buses, right? She is a stranger to me (although I now know all this about her). It is frowned upon to hug a stranger, even if they probably really need a hug. We deny that connection, out of fear and politeness. The British stiff upper lip.
I am still torn, now. I can't decide whether I would want someone to reach out to me if I was in a similar situation (I think I would...) or whether I would find it embarrassing for my pain to be seen so clearly by another, a stranger. What would you do?