anguish on the ride home.

another curiously breezy August night in New York

City. i’m on my way home from a wine and cheese fete’

with some friends out near Corona. i had just gotten

off the E train and managed to catch the last Q83

before they stop going up the hill every 25 minutes.

as i get on with my ears full of a Ghostface Killah

mashup, i notice this one woman with her head down

on a huge black plastic storage container. her two

boys sat next to her, staring off into space. i move

to get a seat in the back since this bus usually gets


the bus jerked slightly. the reason being that this

older woman in a red and white striped sundress that

would’ve gone over well in an MGM musical had darted

in front of the bus to try to get on. the driver hit

the gas and proceeded down Archer Avenue to the front

of the bus stop area. she ran as fast as she could

and managed to get on, gasping for air.

a few minutes later, i look up from my book and i see

that the other woman with the container and the kids

has her head up. and she’s sobbing uncontrollably.

the tears gathered like rainwater under her eyes. she

was dressed in a sweater and black nylon pants. she

stared ahead, her lips not moving but her the rest of

her face was a mask of anguish. that is real pain. the

kind of despair that you don’t give a rat’s ass if

anyone sees. the kind of anguish that makes your heart

hurt with each gust of air into your lungs. it dawned

on me…she must be without a place to live. it would

make sense with the two boys next to her and the large

container. she must be going to the women’s shelter

over by St.Pascal’s church.

at that moment, the woman in the striped dress tapped

her on the shoulder. from where i was, i saw something

that i’ve seen so many times before in these New York

streets that other folks don’t believe happens often

here. and sometimes, even i can forget it does. it was

compassion. as the mother cried, the lady in the striped

dress spoke with her. calmed her. hugged her and gave

her strength. these are the moments missed once you

plug into your iPod, or your phone or disappear into

the pages of a book or newspaper. i couldn’t help but

stare at them.

as the bus reached the stop on 202nd Street and Murdock

Avenue by the church, the mother got off, edging her

kids in front of her. i saw that she also has a giant

red piece of luggage. my heart sank again. she must’ve

had to make a mad dash. who knows what – or who – she

left behind. and the two boys had this look on their

faces. it was a numb look, one that gives off the idea

that nothing in the world really could move you anymore.

the lady in the striped dress helped her with the black

storage container. as the bus pulled off, i saw them all

make their way down the block towards St.Pascal’s and the

PAL shelter. and while it saddened me, i’m glad i was

able to see it. just so i can keep reminding myself not

to be oblivious to pain because i don’t feel it.

that image stuck with me all of last night. it’s only

now that i’m able to write about it without a heavy

sense of sadness. because today, this mother and her sons

have a new day to start over. they’ve got a shot. one

that other mothers and other kids in cities and towns

throughout this country…hell, the world…may not

have. someone said something in a lecture i heard years

ago at a video engineers’ conference: “you beat the odds

just by showing up.” and that’s what they’ve done.