Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Citizens of 4F, Dec. 10, 2013

On some mornings, every citizen who boards the 4F bus seems to wear the basic pain of living on his or her face.

Tom, the bus driver, nervously taps the steering wheel constantly; he's obsessed with hitting the scheduled time to each bus stop,  because passengers depend on him to deliver them on time each morning to their bus connections or to their work place. He takes this very seriously and his pain comes from the expectation he places on himself. When passengers thank him for the ride (in Minnesota, virtually everybody does this), Tom will genuinely appreciate the courtesy.

Frank has serious physical disabilities. He can board the bus only when the power lift door is dropped to the sidewalk so he can roll his hi-tech wheelchair aboard. The only muscle Frank seems able to use is the one hand that operates the joystick on his wheelchair. His huge pain lies in his complete lack of independent autonomy; he depends on the bus driver to walk back and cinch his wheelchair in place, and to free him once he reaches his stop.  Frank's pain is of the type we'd like to avoid thinking about, except on days like this when it's not possible to ignore.

Bonnie's pain is much less obvious, but it's there. She is a stunningly pretty girl, and the burden of being pretty shows on her face. When people glance at her, she shifts uneasily, unsure about how exactly she is being perceived. Sometimes she reacts to glances by smoothing her hair, dabbing at her lipstick; she seems convinced that others are staring at flaws. She faces great pressure to be pretty all the time, and at unguarded moments this pressure shows in her face. It's rather mild pain compared to that of others, but it's there nonetheless. 

Tom is a young, budding middle-manager aiming for an executive role some day, some place. The work badge he clips to his briefcase is for an investment firm now in serious financial trouble like so many others. Tom rides with eyes closed, and sometimes his lips move silently. He is practicing for some upcoming morning meeting, where the success of his performance perhaps will affect the security of his job.

Margaret is an older citizen, perhaps 70 years of age, and like many of the older folks, her pain is of a physical variety. She winces noticeably upon boarding the bus, and the wince is echoed whenever the bus lurches. Perhaps it is arthritis, or perhaps some other nerve problem, but either way her pain is evident. Like so many elderly folks, Margaret handles her pain with quite a lot of dignity.

All the 4F citizens show pain in some form on this cold, cold morning—every last one of them. And while there will be other mornings where I will be more attuned to their happiness, today it is their sorrows that touch me.  Strangely, this makes me feel a closeness and bond with my fellow citizens that is impossible otherwise. Their pain seems to scrape against my own nerve endings today, yet for this moment I would have it no other way.

Later today, I might find myself adopting indifference, or even irritation, in order to insulate myself from empathetic pain.  In the early morning, though, there is a still a softness of heart that makes all of us hurt together, a human communion. 


  1. I remember riding the bus on cold mornings in Pittsburgh, but that's warm compared to MN! Good descriptions, stay warm.

  2. Marvelous sensitivity and observation. A fully switched on human being wrote that.

  3. But we can never really know the pain of others, can we? All we can ever do is relate what other people appear to be feeling to our own experiences, or to what our imaginations tell us it would be like to experience another's pain. In that sense, therefore, it all lies in our imaginations, even though others' pain is very real. I think this is one of the factors that highlights just how alone - but not necessarily lonely - we all are with respect to each other. Perhaps empathy is the balm that soothes the perceived pain of that aloneness.

  4. There is so much pain in all of us. Some days are better than others but none of them seems perfect anymore. Excellent observations by you.