Jul 27 2011

Night bus companions

I got on the 71 in the University District after an enjoyable dinner with my friend Julia.  Riding a Seattle bus from the Ave to downtown at night never fails to be just another commute.

As the sun quietly disappears and the bus windows reflect back the humanity rubbing shoulders in this moving metal cylinder,  the gathering of party-heels and mini-skirts, make-up, tattoos, piercings, workers, homeless, lonely, and teens is sometimes poignant, sometimes loud, often perfumed with eau-de-bourbon, and occasionally scary.

But most of the time, it’s simply quiet with an undercurrent of loneliness–everyone pretending to be invisible, lost in their own reverie, attached to iPods and listening to their life soundtracks alone.

As I quickly scanned the full bus, taking a seat, I determined the relative peacefulness of the riders and took in the details of clothes, and expressions. Always, for a mind-expanding moment, I’m suddenly aware that everyone has a life of complex relationships and histories, everyone had a “day” and that day was different than mine, unconnected but for city–except we’re all now together on the 71.

I snapped out of my cosmic musings when a movement across from me revealed a rabbit. Surprised, all my surreptitious people-watching skill failed. I simply stared.

Gently held in an older man’s arms was a large charcoal gray bunny.

The man had an animal carrier on his lap, but the rabbit was clearly content looking out the window from the safety of his owner’s embrace. After the man’s seatmate left, he put the creature on his shoulder, and there he (she?) confidently sat, nose moving rapidly.

Whenever the bus slowed to a stop, the man carefully reached a hand up and held his friend in place.  When things got chaotic, he brought the bunny back to the safety of his arms and the creature snuggled close.

The man saw me watching. I smiled, but he looked away. I’m sure he was used to looks. Dogs and cats on the bus are common sights. A Metro-riding rabbit was a new one in all my bus-commuting years.

What captivated me, though, was not the uniqueness of his companion, nor that said companion seemed so unfazed by the busy bus, but the affection so obvious between them.

Love emanated from the man toward his little friend. He cared for his companion in a way I’ve rarely seen other riders act with their dogs or cats. And though reading the thoughts of a rabbit is beyond me, the bunny seemed confident and caring of his friend as well, nuzzing his cheek, content to relax in his arms or on his shoulder.

They cherished each other, attended to each other. Witnessing the affection, in a setting often marked by a quiet, desperate loneliness, brought tears to my eyes.

Companion is from the Latin companis, with-bread.

They were the food of love for each other.

Love takes many forms. As they left the bus, man and rabbit, I silently thanked them. On a night bus ride of anonymity shone a bond of companionship, that for a brief moment caught me as a witness in its embrace.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

Nov 22 2010

Deeper Magic

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Worried about the future, a woman stepped out of the campus library into the cold winter darkness. Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. Hungry and tired, she waited for the bus in the street lamp’s glare, wearily wondering where God had gone.  She worried at the question as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. Familiar tears prickled at the corners of her eyes.  She clenched her teeth against the ache and shoved her hands in her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts and eyes to look for distant headlights.

That’s when she saw them, on the sidewalk, just at the edge between light and dark:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the night.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. The tiny lights of a bus appeared in the distance. She imagined supper and bed, warmth and sleep.

Yet a little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart, a little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop, questions stilled by curiosity.

She followed up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped, breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

ASLAN LIVES!!

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Today I am grateful…

That Christ is risen indeed!

For C.S. Lewis, whom I remember today, and how the Narnia stories still speak to me of The Story, and that children are still reading them.

For the paw prints of God’s guidance: I may not know where following them will take me, but I know Who waits at the end.

For the story kernel, based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of actually finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” (Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)

For my young friend, Jack, who has read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on his own for the first time.

And for this morning, like going through the Wardrobe, I look out on a snowy world,

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and the feathered friends who eat breakfast with me:

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holy experience

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