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  • I don't have my driver's license.

    Some days, that embarrasses me, so I'm indignant and self-righteous about why more people shouldn't drive. Others, I accept that no one took the time to teach me when I was younger, and now the prospect of being in control of an unforgiving, metal bullet terrifies me. Both are true to some extent.

    Mostly, riding the bus is a painful reminder every time you step on that you still haven't quite escaped poverty yet, out this far in the suburbs. But there are lessons you learn riding public transit that are difficult to find anywhere else. You find yourself thrown together with the people in our society who have been brought down lowest; all with a story, most with an excuse. And yet, you find incredible hope and resilience.

    You listen to the stories when you forget your headphones, like the stories from the group of 19-year-olds behind you who are on probation, heading to check in with their parole officer at the county jail. The slang and smell of smoked cigarettes hangs on them. One of them mentions his daughter and baby-mama, and that he's been thrown in jail for not paying child support (because he can't find anything but a minimum wage, part-time job), even though she's dealing drugs out the back door. You take it all in, and even at your most compassionate, it's hard not to think his life is already over. The cycle continues.

    You see acts of love and kindness. Those who have nothing giving to others who have nothing, too, because they are in a rough patch. An elderly woman plays with the baby sitting in the seat in front of her and gives a stressed mom a moment of repose. A teenager gives another woman his last two dollars to get a prescription until her Social Security goes through.

    They are hopeful beyond hope. Because they have to be. Because if there isn't any hope, then what else is there?

    You see rage and sadness. The two men who start fist-fighting on the train because one accidentally bumped the other and couldn't bother with an apology. Young women screaming at each other over a cheating boyfriend. Drunks finding their way home with slurred speech who've had enough of this woman or that jerk.

    They have had enough. They can't take anymore. No matter how hard they work, how they try to clean up, how they want to turn it around, they can't. They are trapped and are giving up.

    You cover your daughter's ears during the more excessive bursts and try to explain that he's just upset like when she gets upset. He probably just needs a hug from his mommy. And it hurts to know that probably is the truth of it.

    We all need connection. Even riding the bus, you feel isolated. Apart. There isn't enough common ground even in the trenches to bind one of us to the other. We complain about the bus being late or appreciate the break in the rain while we all stand waiting, but it's an awkward, forced conversation.

    All the people remind you with their lack of social skills that you do not belong here.

    To break through each other's walls, higher than normal while pushed together with so many strangers, feels almost impossible. What common ground could I have with these people?

    And then you realize you have so much in common. From all superficial glances, you could be grouped together by socioeconomic status, by expectation, by lineage. But then why do you hope? What will make you change? What makes you so very different?

    It may sound arrogant, but I think it's the way you dream, the way you aspire to something more.

    Maybe it's too much too hope for connection in a place so destitute of dreamers. Yet you can't help but hold out hope for humanity when you see random acts of kindness. It's holding on to hope for a bigger dream for them that's the lesson in compassion.
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