Zen and the Art of

Mindful Bus Riding



The old woman boarded the bus with a childlike exuberance. She was perhaps in her early 70's, slight of build and her short, thick hair was slightly disheveled. The evening was warm and humid yet in one arm she carried a sweater and a small, tightly rolled blanket, presenting the impression of homelessness. With her free hand she touched and joyfully greeted the bus driver, who briefly chatted back. She settled into the lengthwise seat behind the panel backing the driver and reached out to a disembarking woman on a mobility scooter, offering kind words as she wheeled past.

She beamed and spoke to the gentleman seated across from her, and he politely returned her infectious smile. Then she turned and did the same to the young woman sharing her seat. The young woman failed to recognize their oneness and did not acknowledge the presence of the elder, who then slowly recoiled, edged herself into the corner, and drew her legs up as if she meant to shrink and vanish. Like a rebuked child she brought her hand up to her mouth and covered it tightly so as to not misspeak again and sat motionless stop after stop as the bus discharged passengers.

The well-groomed and smartly dressed young woman gave a sideways glance at the huddled figure. She shifted her weight a few times and then her foot began to move slowly up and down indicating her desire to extricate herself from this uncomfortable situation, yet she continued to stare forward out the opposite window, unsure of how to proceed.

The older woman began to relax a little. She dropped her hand from her mouth and asked the time of the man across from her, but he had fallen asleep. Seizing the opportunity, the younger woman opened her cell phone to share the time. She offered some words, perhaps an apology, to the older woman who reached out and the two clasped hands. After a brief exchange, the older woman offered the younger a bus schedule, which was gracefully declined. Then she generously offered the gift of a snack bar, which may have been reserved as her evening meal. Again she received a cordial response, a smile, and a head shake. The two then rode in silence until the younger pulled the wire to request a stop. Before she left the bus the two again exchanged words and clasped hands in farewell.

The elderly woman remained on the bus, peeled the wrapping from her snack bar, and slowly relished the sweet taste. Near the end of the bus route she was the last passenger aboard. Before she exited, the bus sat still for several minutes as she conversed with the driver. The bus pulled away and she stood for a moment watching it, then she walked down the sidewalk, turned down a side street and disappeared into the night.

Mindfully watching the unfolding of this scenario my compassion went out to the older woman. By nature, my inclination was to take the woman by the hand and direct her to sit by me. I wanted to reassure her that the problem was not with her but in the other woman not recognizing that we are all one and the same. However, in hindsight I now see that my intervention would have denied them both the opportunity to connect on a spiritual level. Hesitation and observation proved to be the best course.

Emesis Woman

Eric and I were heading home after attending a FEMA conference on preparedness. We walked across the street and chatted with a woman waiting at the bus stop. She had a contract position with food services for the conference so we complemented her on the delicious cookies and other snacks that had been served that day. After a short wait, we all caught the number 17 bus. Eric and I sat near a sunglass salesman who had flown into the local airport and was unable to rent a car, so he was taking the bus to meet with a client. We gave him directions to his destination and disembarked at 5th and Alvernon where we crossed the street to connect with the number 3 bus.

As we approached the bench at the bus stop we noticed a woman sitting there. She looked pale and informed us that she was not feeling well. She had just donated plasma and had ran across the street to arrive at the stop in time to catch the bus. Having worked in the canteen multiple occasions at Red Cross blood drives I was aware of their policy of having donors sit for at least 10 minutes afterwards, offering snacks and fluids. Rarely someone would get queasy upon viewing the needle but after donating blood nearly everyone was fine upon waiting the 10 minutes. Once a woman stood up to leave and had nearly passed out, so the supervision proved to be a good policy. I shuddered to think of the potential traffic accident her reaction could have produced.

I asked the woman if they had her sit for awhile or gave her any snack or drink after giving plasma, but they had not. She said she had felt very thirsty and had wanted to stop at the gas station to purchase something to drink but was worried that there was not enough time to do so before the bus arrived. She said she also felt hot and dizzy. We had an unopened bottle of water in our bus pack and offered it to her, along with a protein bar. She refused the protein bar but guzzled half the bottle, then reported feeling nauseous and light headed.

I reassured her that my husband and I were both RNs and being concerned that she could faint and strike her head, I recommended that she sit on the ground if she thought she might pass out. She complied and then vomited the water while I held her long hair back. I asked her if she was feeling better but she complained again of feeling hot. I took the rest of the water in the bottle and drizzled it down her neck. Almost immediately she began to feel better, sat back on the bench and wanted to eat the protein bar. Eric, now relieved, had been ready with his cell phone to dial 9-1-1 if the woman had lost consciousness. Soon the bus arrived and we all three boarded.

During the bus ride I kept tabs on how she was feeling. She was a single parent of a two-year-old son and was on her way to pick him up at his preschool. She had skipped breakfast that morning and had been selling her plasma twice a week for the past several weeks for money to provide for her son. I inquired if she had someone to call if she started feeling bad again and she reassured me that she did. Her stop was approaching so I offered to accompany her if needed, but she assured me that she was feeling much better.

After she got off the bus Eric and I discussed the possibility of our donating plasma. He researched and found that plasma donors can make upwards of $300 per month for twice weekly sessions. That could amount to $600 for the two of us, more than doubling our monthly income. Plus our plasma could be used to save lives.

Taught by James

Yesterday Eric and I had attended a FEMA seminar on “Faithful Readiness” for faith-based and community based response teams, considering ourselves as community members. We transferred to the number 17 bus and got off several blocks before our destination just after the bus made a turn in another direction. We asked the driver and he told us that the Holiday Inn was up the road. After walking for about 15 minutes, the number 17 bus passed us and stopped in front of the Holiday Inn we were still a block away from. We figured the bus had gone down Ajo to the Laos Center then doubled back and passed us so we could have just stayed on the bus, saved some walking time, and still arrived earlier. We wondered why the driver hadn't suggested that we remain on the bus.

This morning Eric had a therapy appointment so I was to attend the first part of today's seminar alone, with the plan for him to meet up with me there around lunch time. We hopped on the number 3 bus bright and early. He remained on the bus heading to St. Mary's outpatient clinic while I transferred to the number 17 bus. There I met James. “Hi, I'm James.” he told passenger after passenger. “What's your name? Where are you going?” he inquired each time. Most people took the time to talk to James, some didn't. He was a happy, pleasant soul. “I'm on my way home from work,” I heard him say to a fellow bus rider. People got off and James moved to a seat near mine. “Hi, I'm James,” he said to me. “What's your name? Where are you going?” he asked.

I told him my name and that I was going to a meeting. “Ooooh, oooh, see that place? I went there. It was real fun,” he commented excitedly as we passed the Rodeo Museum.

“I've never been there, but it looks interesting. I didn't even know there was a Rodeo Museum. So, you work night shift?” The bus turned down Ajo and this time I stayed on board.

“Yeah, I clean this building. Where is your meeting?” he asked.

“At the Holiday Inn,” I responded.

“Oh, I think you are on the wrong bus,” he informed me.

I wondered if James could be right. He seemed to know this route and I was unfamiliar with it, still I was on the 17 bus. I grabbed a bus schedule from the rack and traced the route. As the bus pulled into the Laos Center I noticed the dotted lines. “If you need to use the bathroom, go across the street, don't use the bathrooms here,” James explained. “I get off here and catch another bus to go home.”

“Thanks, James. Good-bye”

“'Bye, Sue. See you later.”

The bus sat at the Laos Center for 12 minutes before heading back down Ajo. I asked the bus driver if he went to the airport next. “No,” he said. “That is the other 17 bus. There are two 17 buses. You want the 17 that says 'Airport' on it, not the one that says 'Laos Center. Every other bus goes to an alternate destination. A lot of people find it confusing.”

“Just the first time,” I responded. “That James sure is smart,” I pondered.

Ashram Woman

Shortly after we first started riding the bus, we were in center facing seats. We noticed that the young woman seated across the aisle from us was paging through a book on meditation. We struck up a conversation and she moved over to sit beside us. She had made some bad decisions and had landed in jail. While there Marsha (not her real name) picked up a magazine on meditating. After being released under the condition of receiving counseling she had made the decision to turn her life around and had made an interview appointment to volunteer at the nearby Desert Ashram.

Before Marsha got off the bus, we gave her the link to one of our recent websites, hoping she might use the “comment” field to stay in touch. After returning home, Eric decided to research the Desert Ashram and it's guru. We were distressed to learn that he had been charged with the crime of taking sexual advantage of several women. Marsha was young, pretty, with a beautiful spirit and in a vulnerable state of mind, but we had no way of advising her to be wary. The only thing we could think of to do was to post a personal message to her on that website with the link to the information Eric had obtained from his online search.

There is no happy ending to this story. We don't know if Marsha ever read the message we left for her and have not encountered her on the bus since. I regret not obtaining contact information from her, and sincerely hope she is doing well.

The link we gave to Marsha was for Eric's website Beginnings: First Lines from Scriptures. Eric had compiled the information and sent it out in an email to our literature group members the evening before his motorcycle accident, and it became the content for the first website he published afterwards. The next morning after sending out the email, Eric read an email response from a dear friend commenting on Eric's efforts. Reading that email is his only memory of that fateful day. That friend, Vern, came to visit Eric during his hospitalization, sent many encouraging emails, and died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack a few months later. Eric was uploading the site when news of Vern's death was received, prompting the website dedication in his memory.



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