Monday, May 12, 2014

It Takes a Village

We arrived early at the bus terminal to pick her up. Mother was coming for a weekend visit. I walked around and as is my custom, I observed people. Yes, my number one sporting event – People Watching. This is a leftover habit from the prison years. It is one of hypervigilance, an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats.

The entire terminal was a village of sorts. What moved me the most was seeing the number of at-risk persons. It appeared to me the bus terminal is to the economically disadvantaged what the airport is to the middle and upper class citizens. I wrote that out, didn't I? In this land, this country of opportunity where there is purportedly no class distinction, it became abundantly clear there is indeed a caste system.

There were teenaged males riding low-rider bikes and asking for handouts. There were the drug users, perhaps not identifiable to some, but I recognized them, the Tweakers, especially.

The terminal was a veritable village of tribes and cultures. Spanish was spoken as well as the native tongue of the Tohono O’odham peoples and of course, English. The Tohono O’odham were previously known as the Papago people; however, they have largely rejected this name. It was applied to them by conquistadores who had heard them called this by other Native American bands and it was considered to be derogatory.

As the buses arrived, they would dock at their designated “port” and persons began exiting the vehicle. They invariably would seek out a familiar face and if not found would settle on a bench, pull out a cellphone and call someone to presumably ask them to come and pick them up.

I was amazed to see different cultures and races mingling and sitting with one another. Perhaps it was my years from prison where the inmate population was defined by race and thus divided as such, but it surprised me to see everyone “mixing it up,” so to speak. It was also comforting. As children of God, we are all of the same tribe! “red and yellow, black and white…

After of bit of downtime and perhaps an exchange of drivers, the buses were boarded with yet another set of travelers for their next destination. There was a lot of activity and conspicuously absent was any sign of security or police. For all appearances, it was as if the people were self-governed and took care of any security issues themselves.

The cacophony of sound made me think of the “tongues of fire” that fell upon the believers in the book of Acts. One could gaze upon the groups of people and discern family units. Mothers with small children herded them onto benches and quietly began nursing infants. No one appeared to be offended as would be the case in a more formal setting. Churches, prison visitations, and restaurants often isolate nursing mothers who are performing a loving, nurturing act of feeding their child. This in the purest sense is an act of communion, “take, eat, for this is my body…

When the weekend was over, we returned Mother to the bus terminal. It was the same village only with different faces.

Since we now knew where to head for the incoming bus, we found a bench and sat with others. There were some children eating homemade burritos, wrapped in aluminum foil. They promptly disposed of the foil on the ground and I retrieved it for the trash receptacle. The mother chastised her children and another young man thanked me for tending to that task. I nodded in the affirmative and offered a smile.

Mother removed the bus fare from her purse so she would have it in hand for the driver – no tickets for this ride, cash only. She sat there while we chatted with the money in her hand. I was observing a man who was rapidly moving from one group to another. I reckoned he was a substance abuser, a tweaker looking for a “mark,” for what he believed to be easy money. I told Mother to put her money in a pocket. She said, “I’m holding it tightly.” The man moved from one end of the terminal to the other, not really looking at people, but looking FOR an opportunity. I told mom, “watch him – see how he’s working the crowd?” We observed for a while then lost track of him. Suddenly he appeared and the way he was moving and approaching us at the bench was one of determination. I stood up and looked him in the eye. It was an authoritative challenge, I would suppose. He promptly and immediately left the area. He perceived I was a threat to him. He was correct. Don't mess with my Momma!

In short order, Mother was on the bus and headed towards her home, some four hours away. This terminal was Suntran’s, and is operated by the county.

My next and the latest experience was to travel to the Greyhound terminal in downtown Tucson. We were picking up our son. The Greyhound terminal is set off the main street and is not lighted very well at all. They do have a building where you purchase your ticket, can purchase food and then sit and wait for the arrival of your designated bus.

Although the bus was scheduled to arrive at 7:30, it was after 8 p.m. before it pulled in. So we watched as we waited for his arrival. Again, the dissonance of many voices filled the room and there were televisions in various areas to fill the time with nonsense and / or news of the day. I saw a family of women – a grandmother and two teenaged granddaughters it appeared. The number of the bus had been called and they moved their luggage and stood in line. One of the teens had beautiful cornrows in her hair. It made spiral designs around her scalp, it then fell well below her shoulders. I could not help myself but approached her and tell her how beautiful her hair was. She smiled shyly and thanked me. I believe if you see something of beauty, something worthy of praise, it should be spoken, it should be acknowledged.

When all the persons from the incoming bus had disembarked, it was time for the next group to load up and on. All this happened in a quiet and mannerly fashion. Everyone seemed to know what to do and what was expected of them. One young woman had a very small infant with her. It was difficult to carry the infant, the luggage and a child safety seat, so another person behind her assisted with moving the safety seat up each time the line moved closer to the door. Community cooperation, it appeared.

When the bus departed another announcement was made regarding a new arrival and give the next departure number and door was broadcasted. With this new group I watched a father and son. The son was in line and was looking and smiling at his father. The father looked at his son and nodded at his son. The bond between them was palpable.

When the son finally approached his turn at the gate, he turned to his father and raised his hand, then exited the building. The father immediately went to the window where his son would pass by and placed his open hand on it. The son responded in like manner. It was an emotionally touching scene.

As the father passed by us I said, “Your son?” “Yes,” he said. “Pray for him, Pappa, pray for him,” I offered. “I do and I will,” said the man.

Before long our son had arrived and we headed home. I tucked the memories safely away in my heart.

Wishing you everyday grace,
P.S. Psalm 39:12 (NASB)
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry;
Do not be silent at my tears;
For I am a stranger with You,
A sojourner like all my fathers.
Do not be silent at my tears;
For I am a stranger with You,
A sojourner like all my fathers.

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