Politicole: A Pilgrim’S Tale


ONE of my closest and oldest childhood friends recently reminded me of one of my idiosyncrasies as a teenager. She said, “whenever you left your seat in class, you didn’t want anyone else to sit in it while you were not there. You would leave and come back and say ‘why is my seat hot?’”

And I busted out laughing because I’d totally forgotten that, but when she said it it brought it all back. I had forgotten, for just a moment, how very special I was ... had always been. The truth is, I’m still that special. Maybe more now than ever before. By the end of this article, you may understand that more.

This week, I went to take a seat on a short bus ride, and in public I always pick the seat where no one is too near me, so I don’t have to go through the motions of holding my breath due to some unpleasant oral or other body fragrance or, God forbid, feeling nauseous because the seat is too hot.

Why is it that, of all the empty seats on a bus, people just want to sit right next to you? I don’t get it. Or is it just me? It’s like when I go alone to the movies (yes, I do that ... often prefer that), with dozens of empty seats around me, and the next person will aim to sit immediately next to me, or immediately in front of me, or immediately behind me, and inevitably they will be a talker or some other kind of annoying. Like the guy who sat right next to me in the very empty theatre and when I asked him if he didn’t mind moving because I don’t like people that close to me, he said “das a wibe”.

But back to the bus scene, and to the lady who comes aboard, sits right next to me, her gun cases overlapping her seat onto mine, so I feel like my hips are two inches wider than they are. She doesn’t have halitosis, but suddenly I smell food and notice that she is digging away at something in one of her nine plastic grocery bags. As I glance around to confirm that no food is allowed on the bus – affirmative – I determine that it’s Popeye’s, because the smell of fried chicken is unmistakable.

But there are other seats, so why has she chosen to sit right next to me, practically on me? Do I seem friendly? I’m serious. Do I give off an “open” vibe? I’m serious.

I did an internship at the end of my undergraduate college experience and I was a bit older than most of the other interns there. They came from every corner of America. And, somehow, I found myself being called on to administer advice, to give my opinion on a personal or social inconvenience. It earned me the nickname “camp counsellor”, dubbed by this guy from Morehouse, who, along with the others, would occasionally pour into my temporary office for a mind session.

Reflecting on that, I wonder if there was a missed opportunity in there somewhere. Was I supposed to be a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist of some sort?

Whatever reason these veritable strangers think they had for seeking my counsel and bending my ear every single day, it’s the same reason I suppose that all my married men friends can load me with information enough to write a book about Why Men Get Married. It’s the same reason why another lady at the bus stop can tell me all about the problems she has at home with her boyfriend and kids and family. All I said was “hello”.

And fast forward to this week, when a short little, elderly Asian lady walks up and starts talking to me about everything. I really do mean everything. She can’t find her bus pass, and she’s animating what she thinks has happened. As much as my hoodie covers my head and my shades cover my eyes, and as deep as my hands are in my pockets, and as much as I turn my body away from her, she keeps talking.

So I give in. She’s tiny. She won’t be in my space all night. I can deal with this. So I begin to acknowledge her with positive feedback – “mm hmm”, “yeah”, a nod on occasion.

Floodgates open.

Then she goes on to remark about the state of affairs in our country. Our country. But I’m not an American. Why does she think I’m an American? I look like I belong? Like the lady who stopped me to ask me for directions to another store nearby. Do I look like I fit in here? The scary thing is I could actually tell her where to go, after less than a week of visiting this city I had never visited. I guess I blend well? Imagine that. Me, the one who doesn’t like my seat to be hot or sat in?

Back to my new little Asian lady friend on the bus stop, who now undoubtedly thinks I’m an American like her ...

The funny thing is, as she goes on to explain to me how the lady at Target almost just gave her the wrong change, and you have to be so careful they don’t steal from you, and how she’s so hungry and she just ate food at the food court, but she’s diabetic and they always feel hungry, and how she knows it’s not good for her to have sugar but she has to chew some gum, and pulls it out and offers me some ... (I politely decline).

With all of this talking, it’s hard to miss the very strong east Asian accent she has. She, obviously, was not born an American. But here she was, an American concerned about her country. And this American assumed that, because I was taking a bus in America, in the middle of ‘East Jesus Nowhere’ - to quote ‘Juno’ - I must also be an American.

This little lady had no judgment of me. And I have to tell you, I don’t judge, but I’m very sceptical of people, especially these days. That’s a layer added to my OCD issues. I can be a real good loner when I need to be. It’s something/a skill you learn or get used to really early on, as an only child.

She finally finds her bus pass and looks up and smiles at me, and I smile with her, almost prepared to pay her fare if she doesn’t find her pass, because that’s one more struggle removed from her and now I’ve developed a soft spot for her.

She continues ... “this ISIS ... isn’t this something? They hate so much. There’s no love in their heart.”

And she goes on. And it’s getting colder. And I know I am experiencing this for a reason however small. I have to write about this little lady’s pride to identify with being an American, when there’s nothing but her physical presence in this place to suggest she would be. I guess much like there’s nothing about me that suggests to her that I wouldn’t be.

This pride we have as citizens of our respective countries ... is the love we have in our hearts a function of that pride? Is that what separates us and others like us from something like the ideology of radical, bastardised Islam? It must be.

This little lady probably came to America many years ago looking for a better life. And whatever love she had in her heart she brought it with her ... exactly the kind of person you’d want to be able to see a “home“ in your country.

She may have been an illegal immigrant or undocumented migrant – as appears to be the preferred term in these parts – but it didn’t stop her from feeling love for her fellow men ... her fellow Americans. She gives it freely. And I wonder where she came from? But I hesitate to ask because this is a short ride, it’s cold, I’m tired, and even with love in my heart, I think it best to discourage too much more conversation, particularly because of the many other ears around us.

As my journey of revelations continues, she disembarks, perhaps a pilgrim from an unknown land, like I often feel myself, and she wishes the driver a Happy Thanksgiving.

My lesson: Have love. No hate. Be thankful.

A pilgrim: a person who travels on long journeys. Maybe right now I could be called a pilgrim, though not quite like the English Puritan pilgrims who fled religious persecution in England, and then inflicted their religion on the indigenous people of America. But that’s another story.

Send email to nburrows at tribunemedia.net


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