The godly care about the rights of the poor;
the wicked don’t care at all. – Proverbs 29:7
My quick excursion into Florida is complete, so now it’s time to catch up on some work. My plan was to deliver our old SUV to Rebekah’s brother in Jacksonville (“seeing with new eyes, and missing much less“), then jump on a bus heading north. Today’s post tries to tell that story.
BIGOT: First, I can’t write about this the way I thought I would, going in. It turns out I came to the Greyhound station pre-loaded with assumptions, generalizations, judgements, and bigoted, prejudicial points of view regarding my fellow-travelers.
Instead, my bus – as well as the four depots I spent some time at – was loaded with the most colorful assortment of real people; people with stories; people with hopes, dreams, struggles, and disappointments; people just like me.
I listened to some of their stories, and they touched me deeply. But this wasn’t simply a few people on a bus, it was a window into an entire strata of life here in the United States of America, comprised of so many people who keep this country running, who work in jobs we pay little attention to, who struggle to make ends meet, to raise their children, and to even put food on the table, and who are largely invisible to people like me.
EARLY START: I got up at 5:30, so my brother-in-law could drive me to a friend’s house who commutes into downtown Jacksonville. I was dropped off in front of the Greyhound Station around 7:00, long before my scheduled 9:30 departure.
Over the next two-and-a-half hours I drank coffee, chatted with several people, and watched the depot fill up.
The bus itself was fairly worn, not exactly clean, mildly uncomfortable, roomier than “coach” on most airlines, bumpy on the highway, and slightly malodorous in a way that evoked – in equal parts – locker-rooms, bathrooms, and vending machines.
STORY: I sat next to “Dawn,” who was on her way to Arkansas (she’ll be on the road another 24 hours after I arrive home) to try to get her nine-month old daughter released from the custody of child services.
Hers is a long story; it involves another daughter who is being raised by her great-grandmother (the grandmother who raised Dawn), escaping the state from a dangerous ex-husband, trying to start a new life, struggling to make rent, working “off-books” as a house-cleaner for unscrupulous property developers, attending night-school when possible, and – the clincher, the event that had her on a bus heading back to Arkansas – her own father being arrested for Methamphetamine abuse, child endangerment, and more.
Dawn changed buses in Savannah. I pray that the judge she goes before early Friday morning has spent at least a few hours on a Greyhound bus, with his gavel out of sight and his listening ears on.
Whatever plays out in New England, Bob is determined to find a way back to Florida before the first freeze. He doesn’t actually have a home, and I don’t believe he wants one right now. He’s much younger than me, but the past couple of decades have left him looking closer to 70.
HEART-BREAKER: The real heart-breaker came near some vending machines in Georgia. The little boy was likely around eight years old – light sandy hair, blue eyes, freckles, thick corrective lenses; he stood out in his solidly African-American family. The foster mother (and it was evident from the interaction that they’d only been together a few days) was trying to explain why she didn’t have a dollar for him, and why he needed to get the idea of treats out of his head, once and for all (I wrote the interaction down, so I wouldn’t forget).
The child started to protest, and the woman got down on his level, put her hands on his shoulders, and looked him right in the eye. “We black now!” she said. “There is no money. This is what black is.”
And I wondered about the child’s history. Had he just lost his parents? Had he been in the system all his life? How significantly was his world being re-written, right in front of my eyes?
TEARS: This one made me cry, when I shared the story with Rebekah on our way to dinner, after she picked me up at the Raleigh depot around 8:00.
But was I crying for this child…? Or for Dawn and her baby and the lostness of her methamphetamine consumed father…? Or was I crying because I walked so easily out of that story and into a nice air-conditioned car, and on to Milton’s restaurant for a de-brief and back to my life?
I have so much to learn. I believe we all do.
Gallery shows the day, in sequence: