That was many moons ago, but certain faces etch themselves into the memory. They live in the shadow of your afterthoughts, surfacing in the solitary intervals. You look through the distance and wonder. It seemed no great surprise to see her again this morning, huddling underneath a shelter with her walker. Today she was about half the weight she was when I'd seen her last, but her face was still instantly recognizable. She knew who I was at once. We were outside Central Base, and another driver, D--, was keeping her company. D-- is awesome, and had just finished up her shift on the 358, in which our friend, on D--'s bus, had fallen asleep; now D-- was waiting with her for a returning bus, to make sure she got back to where she needed to go.
Our friend, whose name I don't know (henceforth called Barbara Jo Ann), was lamenting the fact that she'd fell asleep for two full 358 trips. I can't believe it, she moaned.
You musta needed that rest, I say. And you, D--, you must be smooooth on those brakes.
"My friend once woke up and he was locked inside the bus on the yard in the middle of the night," says Barbara Jo Ann, laughing.
I express surprise, and D-- tells how she's had that happen on her own bus three times in her career.
Me: What did you do?
"Shoot, I just gave 'em a ride home in my car."
"Tha's kinda crazy," says Barbara Jo Ann. "Actually, that sounds kinda dangerous..."
"Oh, I don't really care," says D--, a squat, unassuming woman in her sixties. "If it's my time to go, it's my time to go, and there's nothing I can do about it. So, you know. Whatever!"
Cracking a smile at us both, a genuine one, the bells on her santa hat tingling softly.
I say it again- wow!- and marveled at her freedom. The implication is more than simply not being afraid of the unknown, but of also having squared everything away, as it were. One must possess a certain awareness of self and satisfaction with one's life and actions to find such a headspace.
Whenever I'm standing around outside Atlantic/Central Base, I always get caught up in conversations with other drivers. Here comes Kirk. Here's Mike and Whats'-His-Name, with the hair and stubble. We all pile onto the 41, us drivers and Barbara Jo Ann, and I chat happily with Kirk for a bit, but who I really want to talk to today is Barbara. Who knows when I'll see her again.
Whats-His-Name, a grizzled old timer, is somewhat nonplussed as I move over to sit next to Barbara Jo and catch up. We make an odd pair, older black woman in a bandanna and hoodie, clutching her collapsed walker and wiping tears from her moist eyes, and me, with my crisp uniform, dirty driving hands, and bright demeanor.
We find a way to see the sunny side of the fact that all her clothes were stolen this morning, and that she missed her appointment up at THS. Mainly, I'm just thrilled that she's alive. Based on how she looked those months ago, I didn't have high hopes. And yet here she is, in dramatically better shape, somehow hanging on, exuding just enough strength to keep going, wandering forth on this path through life, this path we presume to know something about.
Someone once asked Michael Caine if he believed in God. He answered that anyone in his position would, because the odds of his life turning out the way it did are, in his words, "kind of minimal." With the success- in many senses of the word- that he's experienced, of course he does, he said. But what's really impressive is when someone is able to comprehend a just universe- whether that means theistic or godless- when they've been dragged through the ringer.
When Barbara is sitting next to me, and telling me that she "be keeping up the attitude just because it make sense," staying mentally strong through unimaginable hardship, seeing each new day as an opportunity to surpass the previous one, significantly or incrementally...
Let us not pigeonhole this great way by calling it faith or religion or lifestyle or attitude.
How does the human soul possess the ability to continue, in light of what it is subjected to? How is it that we, the great collective human organism, find ways to grow ever onward, searching and not finding, but somehow compelled to keep believing in ourselves, believing in the world, grudgingly, haltingly, or ebulliently? How can we have the nerve- the gall- to get up again after being beaten down? The answers we come up with for this subtle and far-reaching mystery are simplistic, only partly true, or reductive. There is simply the fact that we do. And this is good.