It was the end of the work day and I had been forced into taking the bus. A nicely spectacular winter related wipe out had incapacitated my bicycle, leaving me with a strained shoulder, a blown tube and public transportation.
I've gone back and forth on how I feel about bus as a form of transport. I do not love bumping up against a stranger as people refuse to move all the way to the back while the driver jerks to a stop to let on yet another person with a stroller. I do love having the time to focus on listening to music and the potential ecological possibilities of public mass transit.
This day, like most when I ride the bus, I had my headphones on. Seats were filled with the usual: high school students, shift workers, seniors, and the occasional business person. Those with nowhere to go relaxing and those with places to be silently urging the vehicle forward. Most were attempting to find a way out from where they were; ipods, books and phones, provided entertainment beyond the cityscape passing by.
Hoping to do the same I went to the back of the bus, taking the last empty set of seats. I cradled my bag, trying to keep it off the wet, gravely floor and turned up the music.
We moved through downtown, stopping at every opportunity to pick up a few more souls. The seats began to fill up.
At one stop two young women, perhaps in high school, got on. The driver pulled away from the curb when a black hatted head ran by the window, making for the bus' door. He banged on it, the driver stopped and a young man stepped on.
He exchanged a few angry words with the driver, or at least that is what they seemed from his facial expression. With my headphones and the distance from the back to the front of the bus I could not hear. The young women were still at the front and evidently this hatted fellow knew them. Soon they made their way to the back and the man sat down next to me.
He was skinny, wearing clothes that were two sizes too big. One of the women he was with had a black eye. I caught bits of their conversation filtered through my music. He had hit is arm on the side of the bus and the driver showed no remorse. They were in a hurry as they had just been in a fight of some sort and escaped onto the bus.
A guy across from me in a silver jacket made a comment to the one in the hat and they started up a conversation. It quickly turned to partying. Hat beside me had been drinking that day, while silver jacket across from me never drinks. He prefers a more 'natural' form of intoxication, that being marijuana. Silver jacket offered a joint to hat. As it was being passed between them the joint drops to the floor. As hat leaned over to rescue it his cap fell to the floor, revealing a deep gash in his closely cut hair.
It was at the back of his head and looked like it had only recently stopped bleeding. Dark red mixed into his hair, not yet dried. I looked at this and my first instinct was to take my headphones out at ask if he was ok, if he knew that there was a cut on his head and if he needed any help. I did not follow this instinct. I sat still, pulling my eyes away from his wound so I would not be caught staring. Soon one of his friends picked up his hat and put it back on his head.
Soon after this he and his two friends got off the bus.
I do not know if I should have done something in this situation.
My confession is that I did nothing.
I've tried to ease my mind by saying that surely he must have known about his injury. But what if he didn't? Should I have tried to care for him? Insist, if necessary, that he go to a hospital and get the stitches he likely needed? But at the same time, who am I to force myself into this situation? It was not life threatening, and he was at least 18 and looked like he could take care of himself.
I have argued my case with myself dozens of times, maybe hundreds. I've noticed that most of my points are those of practicality. The degree of his injury, the place we were in, his friends being there, his age.
There are two reflections I'd like to share with you from this situation, one broad and one specific.
First the broad:I feel the questions above are the wrong questions. Or at least not the most important.
What I should be asking is, what was the faithful action?
I do not have this answer, and I am not telling this story as a way to necessarily try to find it. Rather I am hoping to encourage others, and myself, to be thinking of this question in our daily actions. Not only in what we consider “ethical situations,” those with clearly defined issues and options, but in all aspects of life. What is the faithful action? If I am truly to live my life by the example of Christ then all actions I do need to happen through my understanding of that example. An understanding that I hope is forever changing and growing.
I did not consider this in my actions that day and I should have.
Second, the specific learning: I feel I should have said something to the guy in the hat, if only to make myself open to him if he was in need. What little I knew of him: his intoxication, where he had just come from, his injury, should not have closed me off from him. These things should never be ignored, but there is a difference between awareness and shutting out. Yes I need to be aware of safety, but never being open is not a safe option either.
I hope to find that balance between awareness and openness. To not be naive but to safely open myself to others for whatever I may be able to give.