I don’t know how it is where you are, but in Israel most buses have several places where seats face each other. I’m not sure if there is a special name for them. Quad-seats? There are usually two quad-seats in the front reserved for the elderly, and in the newer bus designs, there are several more in the back.
This past week I saw two episodes of Unexpected Magic. (To be honest, I wanted to write something optimistic. I mean, sheesh, are we going to have a government in Israel or a third election in a year? But I digress.)
On the Eve of Rosh Hashana
The #15 bus is crammed with people and their suitcases. Everyone needs to catch the last bus to wherever they’re going for the long holiday. After squeezing my way through the crowds, I find some breathing room at the back and a good place to stand. A few stops later, a seat opens up, and I’m all set.
At the next stop, a kid – 17-18 years old – gets on, and he looks rough. Not dirty exactly, but massively torn jeans, pierced nose, hair shaved on the sides of his head in a kind of messy, flat, dishwater blonde mohawk. He asks the older lady if he could sit by the window, but she points to her giant suitcase taking up two seats facing each other, plus her and another guy in the quad-seat. What could she do? He mumbles, “Why did you even put it there?” I can hear he has a slight Russian accent (maybe Ukrainian). I hope this isn’t the start of something unpleasant.
I see this kid take the suitcase – one-handed – from its perch on two seats, everyone shuffles around and the suitcase is now in the aisle. He takes his seat, pulls out the handle of the suitcase, and sticks his arm through it so it won’t roll away. Then he pulls out a pair of Chinese Medicine Balls and starts a calming clockwise rotation.
The lady asks what they are and he answers that they are a tool to help him stop smoking.
“Oh, but you’re so young! It’s good that you’re stopping now.”
“Yeah, I have this great doctor and he recommended them. They help a lot.”
And the conversation continues from there for a good ten minutes until the end of the ride. He was quite respectful and she was genuinely curious. It was the best way to ride into Rosh Hashana – the New Year.
And yes, he took her giant suitcase off the bus for her.
The morning commute is filled with people ignoring each other by being deeply interested in their phones. This morning, there is a woman in the quad-seat at the back of the bus on her own. No one would sit next to her. She looks hostile, and at one point, she jumps out of her seat to open the window and use her newspaper to swat the seats in front of her.
At one stop, as the bus gets more crowded, a woman makes a move to sit in the nearly empty quad-seat, gives the woman sitting there one look, and moves to another seat.
Everyone gives the hostile woman and this quad-seat a wide berth. Mentally ill? Drugs? We don’t know and all we are interested in is our phones.
Then a Haredi lady gets on the bus trying to wrangle two kids (they look like twins about 3-4 years old), she has a baby in a carriage that needs to get strapped into the carriage area. And all this has to happen on a moving bus.
The only seats available are in the quad-seat.
She hasn’t seen all that happened before, so she directs her kids to the back-facing seats. And the woman everyone has avoided carefully picks up each kid and puts them into the seats. When the slightly stressed mother carrying her infant comes to join her kids, the woman moves to the window seat, shuts her eyes and leans hard into the window. But the Haredi mother thanks her, blesses her, and tells her what a big help she is. The poor woman, who is probably not well, has a hard time with this, but knows she did the right thing.
What I Learned
If you look, you’ll find beautiful things happening all around you. You just have to pay attention and celebrate the Unexpected Magic that presents itself to you.
Headlines are just click bait. What really matters is the everyday encounters that remind us the world is not all that bad.
And that is a great way to start the Jewish New Year! May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life!