The Safety of Each Other

The young woman on the bus is trying to say something to the bus driver.

It is effortful for her to speak. She starts words, but can’t finish them. She swallows, begins again, swallows more, shifts in her blue jacket. The struggle is written across her anxious face and her clenched body.

Most of us on the bus look uncomfortably away; it’s safer to stay in our own individual worlds than get caught up in something we don’t know how to handle. But a woman next to me in a purple coat turns and looks right at the young woman in the blue jacket.

“What’d you need, hon?” The woman in the purple coat’s voice is friendly, direct, a sweep of assuredness striding past our discomfort.

The young woman in the blue jacket starts a few words.

“The grocery store?” the woman in the purple coat guesses from the syllables. The young woman nods.

“Me too,” the woman says. “Grocery store!” she calls out to the bus driver. He nods.

I feel some shame. I shouldn’t have stayed quiet; I should be the kind of person who reaches out. But the other thing I feel is that I want to be like that woman. So I turn to her. “That was really rad what you did,” I tell her.

She shrugs. “We gotta stick together,” she says; it’s an undeniable fact to her, like water is wet. While everyone around her was keeping themselves at a distance, she went in close.

We believe keeping a distance to be safest, but our greatest safety is in our togetherness. The safety of companionship, support, someone turning and saying, “What’d you need, hon?” And us doing the same.

The woman in the purple coat and the young woman in the blue jacket get off at the grocery store. They go their separate ways. And yet, they are together. Undeniably so.

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