After the marsh walk of a few days ago, I wanted to write a piece called “Surround Sound” in honor of the woodpeckers I heard in stereo, both of them drilling and seeming to answer each other deep in the woods. Then I began to compose a piece in my head called “You Have a Big Self,” in honor of our dog who indeed does have a big self that somehow seems to be everywhere at the same time. After that came the wonderful Northern Harrier I saw on the fencepost, and even today, another kind of hawk in a tree with his two crow bodyguards seemed inspirational. But no, it is a moment on the Thursday bus which has lodged in my throat and become stuck in my writing mind. And so I share.
Two days ago and full of passengers, our commuter bus was heading down its usual road near the rehab hospital. Quite suddenly a taxi nosed out of a driveway and collided with a person in a wheelchair. All of us standing in the front of the bus gasped aloud as we watched the scene unfold. Thankfully no one was injured. The person pushing the chair began to exchange words and animated gestures with the driver, while a pedestrian happening by had the presence of mind to go out and collect the wheelchair and crutch and person who was still sitting upright in the chair. Our bus kept on going.
I cannot explain why after another two blocks I could feel the tears rising in my eyes as I looked out at the world from my stance above the other sitting passengers. I wanted the person in the chair to be able to walk and be physically free. Somehow this collision seemed to magnify our humanity, its pain, the kindness of strangers, and, like a childhood wish, I wanted all the world to be right again.
As some may know, this was not the first time I felt a flood of emotions when surrounded by others calmly reading their papers and getting on with their days. Why do I react to these incidents? Why can’t I even read about dolphin strandings or elephant poaching? What kind of chord is my heart tuned to, that at random, at small things, it can quiver and suddenly, expand to fill a bus?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that these are not really small things. They carry a weight of significance which is not hard to miss but yet hard to absorb. I ask if a compassionate heart is a curse, but of course it is not. I wonder how we keep the compassion and channel it into action.