Make Your Connection

It was one of those rare fall days in Portland, the sun shining and the air crisp. Taking advantage of a dry afternoon, I took the bus to retrieve my car from the mechanic.

I strolled down to the corner and bought a latte from Albina Press, crossed the street to the #4 bus stop on Mississippi, and waited for its arrival.

There is something about the bus that makes me happy, makes me feel connected. Regardless of class or color or ethnicity, here we all are, stuck on the bus, awaiting our stop.

The diversity of riders betrays the actual whiteness of this city, and I like that. On this bus to St. Johns, I’m in the minority, for more than just the color of my skin.

The phrase learned from my friend, Deb, comes to mind, “Rode hard and put away wet.” Originally an equestrian term, it describes several of my fellow travelers. These people wear their struggle on their face: there’s no disguising their poverty, mental illness, or disability. The stale stench of alcohol-laced breath is heavy in the air, the smell of fried food and hardship weaving in and out around the veterans and toddlers.

People come and go, making room for others, shifting around, no words needed. We pass the donut shop and the Fred Meyers on Lombard, the laundromats and taquerias. I find the ride humbling, invigorating. There’s something authentic about having one’s wounds so visible, on display. I can keep mine hidden, most of the time. For good or for ill?

We’ve all been broken, shamed, disappointed. Not one of us has sidestepped pain or bad luck. Many have the ability or the support or the desire to hide those wounds, clean ourselves up and put on a pretty face. Some of us have the benefit of a nutritional diet, good health, strong networks. We have neither the genetic makings nor the life circumstances that would drive us to alcoholism or meth use. Schizophrenia did not come knocking on our door; Vietnam did not leave us limbless.

These rides make me feel human. They make me feel blessed, grateful. It’s not something I did. It’s not anything I earned.

Pain is our mother. She makes us recognize each other. (So singeth Over the Rhine)

I get off the bus at Fessenden, walking the half mile past Roosevelt High School and through the neighborhood built up in the ‘40s. I admire the remaining dahlias, the anemones and their snow-white blooms. Their time is limited. So is ours.

The rains have yet to descend on the Rose City. The air is cool, the sky is still blue, the leaves cling to branches. It is in the changing from fall into winter, the move towards darkness and decay, that we can feel most alive. (If we remember to stop and pay attention.)

Look around your neighborhood. Walk outside. Glance into the cube next to yours or the mirror in your bathroom. Don’t miss your connection.


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