Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bus Story: Early Afternoon Edition

In the years that I practiced psychotherapy in Absecon, New Jersey, I was required to work several nights a week in exchange for getting Fridays off. Sometimes I would go to Philadelphia in the mornings and have breakfast and a book browse at Borders in Philadelphia. The reaction of my co-workers in Absecon always amused me because I might as well have announced that I’d had croissants and coffee in Paris before boarding a New Jersey Transit bus. The train ride from Philadelphia to Lindenwold, NJ where I picked up my bus took a mere 30 minutes, but I could somehow never get people to believe that.

I would take the bus from Lindenwold and because I sat up front and the bus would be relatively empty, I almost invariably abandoned whatever book I was reading for a chat with the bus driver. I listened and nodded sagely through some unusual discourses. One driver was eager to convince me that the Clinton impeachment was staged with all participants knowing how it would end because the government was planning SOMETHING ELSE.

In the wake of Columbine a driver told me that he could have gone down “the wrong path” but because his mother beat him on a regular basis he trod the straight and narrow. I did protest that beating children might lead to very different behavior than he was describing (I’m a social worker after all and am obliged to report child abuse), but he would have none of it.

I sidestepped many sticky situations by asking questions and not offering many opinions of my own. If you seem interested and keep questioning, people do tend to assume that you agree with them.

Then I met a guy who told me his fellow drivers called him “The Rev.” The Rev was a lovely guy. He was a bus driver who liked to preach. He seemed to be much more at home in the New Testament than the Old. He talked a lot about charity and forgiveness. He had great psychological sense and felt that if he understood people and their motives he could help them

For many weeks I dipped my toes in the warm bath of this beneficent Christianity.
Many people in my family were quite ardent Christians but were given to saying things like “The good thing about Brazil is that if you’re the least bit pink you disappear.”
They also seemed to hate (or to be frightened of) everyone who didn’t believe exactly what they did.

Some days I didn’t listen as closely to The Rev as I might have. He had a soothing voice and sometimes I was distracted by thinking of my clients and trying to anticipate what the afternoon might hold.

During one ride I was aroused from these reveries by the phrase “…and, of course, homosexuality is a terrible sin.”

Where did that come from?

I was irate. One of my undergraduate mentors was gay. When I struggled to survive in Philadelphia after a fair amount of family turmoil, the people who rallied to help me were gay. When I moved into Center CIty Philadelphia, I moved to the gayborhood. Spruce Street was safe because it was always so busy.

I explained this all to The Rev. He looked frightened.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I have homosexuals in my family. Hate the sin. Love the sinner.”

I protested more but, at least for this afternoon, we were not going to agree.

We were both quiet for a while. There seemed to be nothing left to say.

“Well, Steph, I guess we’ve had our first fight.”

“Yes, I would say so.”

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, right? In fact maybe if we talk more about it, we’ll understand each other better. We can’t resolve it if we just yell or refuse to talk to each other.”

Are you listening, Congress?

Stephanie Patterson

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie, these are marvelous characters. Hope we will see them one of these days in a crime novel.. TJStraw in Manhattan