Riding the bus with Gary Winslow: A lesson

Sep 4, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Sometimes you just gotta pump the brakes … slow down, take a minute to assess the situation, then act … or speak. The feet we freely stuff our mouths with, the catastrophic accidents and situations we put ourselves and others in, the holes we dig (and are lucky if we can dig ourselves out of) are both points of interest and the bane of our existence. Believe you me, I am guilty of all of the above, and if I ever sound a little preachy (or a lot), you can also believe the very same things to remind myself of how I believe I ought to be. Yes, even though I try to stay on top of thoughtfulness and consciousness in my everyday doings, occasionally I do and will slip up. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance for redemption. It doesn’t mean that if we go off the tracks that we can’t lift ourselves back up on the rail and proceed. What it does mean is that we are human.

I’ve learned something about myself, or maybe I’ve always known it … forgiveness ain’t easy for me. I’ve come a long way in the struggle to forgive what I may initially find unforgiveable, but I think mostly I’ve trained myself to be understanding or just plain not give a fuck before situations seep into my psyche and inspire those pesky negative emotions. This has kept me out of a lot of drama, and I feel as though I’ve made progress. But, again, I’m human and therefore imperfect, and if it’s deep or serious … Of course, one of the best ways to learn a lesson is for someone to teach you with the kindness and understanding that you might not have afforded someone else if the same situation were thrust upon you. On that note, check this out …

I’m at the State Fair bus lot, waiting for my connection on a particularly hot and sunny morning. As usual, I was tired from staying up late the night before and felt like I wanted to make a bed out of the bench I was sitting on. I was slouched over, halfway hiding from the sun and smokin’ a bad habit, loathing the fact that I had to be awake for the rest of the day. I guess that’s confession number two: I’m just plain grumpy in the morning. Despite knowing that it’s a blessing to get out of bed under your own power, despite the thousands of times my mother made me smile and say, “Good morning, Mama.” Despite the many days in which I have reason to be excited about the day’s itinerary, I just hate getting up before I’m ready. Whenever I get up to go to work, no matter what the job is, is a blessing, but for the first couple of hours of those days … I fuckin’ hate it.

Time got closer to the arrival of my bus, when an older gentleman approached me. I could only tell he was older by his voice, ’cause at the time I was looking at the ground so I only saw his raggedy, used-to-be black gym shoes, and the lower half of his careworn pant legs. I heard him say, “Excuse me, sir,” and I half-looked his way and cut him off saying, “No, sir, I don’t have an extra cigarette,” not caring to hide my aggravation. The poor guy didn’t get a word in edgewise before I shot him down. I began to realize that I made an erroneous assumption when I heard his voice once again in a tone that could only be interpreted as kind and inquisitive. “Oh, I don’t need a cigarette, sir. I just wanted to know how long it took you to grow your hair.” Damn.

Feeling like a jerk, I finally decided to give him the time of day. This time I lifted my head completely toward the man and the brightness I was trying to hide from. This might sound silly to some, but it was almost as if his face emerged from the light like some old religious painting. Looking through my squinted eyes, I gathered that this man was no threat and that he deserved the same respect he allotted me. He looked to be a workingman somewhere in his 50s or so, with a slight build and a scruffy and short white beard that contrasted with his dark, weathered skin. He was adorned with a tethered baseball cap atop his salt-n-pepper crown. He was an unthreatening individual, to say the least, and he was just seeking knowledge.

As a result of my assessment, I dropped my guard and began to tell him about the “da dread” — why I have them, how long they’ve been growing, and some general knowledge on the premise of their existence. He continued to ask respectful and perfectly reasonable questions, and I answered them in kind, relieved that he wasn’t yet another vulture that can sweep upon you while you’re trying to catch the bus. Trust me, it’s rare that I can pull out a smoke without somebody trying to bum one, and them suckas ain’t cheap. (I oughta quit anyway.)

He once again assured me that he had his own cigarettes, tapping his tethered shirt pocket, and showing me the nearly full pack, then pulled out one to smoke. I apologized for my rude impatience, partly fueled by my morning grump, and partly in defense of something he didn’t need from me anyway, neither of which warrants any excuse whatsoever. Seemingly, without so much as a thought of any wrongdoing on my part, he accepted my apology gracefully like, “No problem, ain’t no thang,” with a smile, preventing me from further groveling due to my guilty conscience. Without missing a beat, he backed away toward his bus stop and went on about his business like nothing happened.

As he stepped on his way, I realized that this unassuming man taught me a poignant lesson with the utmost kindness and grace, almost in the fashion of what you might imagine one of those well-lit saints would do (whether you believe in that or not, that’s basically the idea). My mantra? Know what you talkin’ ’bout before you start talkin’. This time I didn’t, jumped to judgment, and felt dumb as hell as a result.

I sometimes think of what the situation would have ended up like if he took offense to the way I snapped at him, basically accusing him of bothering me for something he didn’t need in the first place. I think of how thoroughly irritated I can get if someone has the nerve to accuse me of something I’m innocent of. Honestly, I can’t say that I would be as gracious, but, then again, I’m sure it would depend on the situation. Either way, my man showed me an example of the best way to go, and spared my feelings in the process. Lesson learned.