I carried a hundred dollar bill around in my pocket for most of the week and just didn’t find the right person. The little voices in my head were back, and they had a lot to say. “That guy looks a lot like Charlie; what’s up with that?”
“Too nicely dressed. Clearly doesn’t need it. And is that an iPhone?”
“He’s looking for empties in the trash. But he’s talking to himself. Move on.”
“She probably doesn’t speak English.”
Sheesh. It’s exhausting entertaining such a clamarous mob.
I had a nice chat with a man on the bus. He was traveling with two large bags of recyclables and I was considering giving him the money. Then he told me that he hates Portland. “It’s Communist! There’s no freedom here!” “What?!” I exclaimed. “What?” Turns out he’s pretty worked up about not being able to smoke on the bus. And everywhere else. The giving urge passed.
After work, I decided to start walking home but stay on the bus route just in case I got tired. The voices kept up their persistent chatter. “Wow. Are those ALL her kids?”
Everyone seemed to either be talking on their phone or in a group. I almost got knocked over by a bicycle and thought about how much that would hurt.
As I approached the stop across from Holladay Park, I noticed a woman sitting by herself waiting for the bus. She was reading. A book – the old-fashioned kind. This warmed my heart.
“Hi there,” I said. She glanced up. “Hello,” she said with a smile. Then she was back to reading.
“What are you reading?” I asked. She showed me the book: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. (I haven’t read this book and was very impressed to see later on Amazon that it weighs 1.6 pounds and comprises over 900 pages.)
“I wonder if you can help me out with something,” I said. “Sure, I’ll try,” she said. I told her a quick version of my story, how I had made a promise to pass along a gift in honor of my mother. She looked at me expectantly. “What is it?” she asked.
I handed her the hundred. “Seriously? For real??!” She laughed a deep belly laugh. “This is so amazing!” She told me her name is Meredith and she is a student. There was a mix-up with her financial aid and she didn’t get her check this month like she expected.
She was so excited. “I’m gonna pay my phone bill!” She told me that she is in recovery and that having a phone is critical to keeping her in touch with her support network.
That made a lot of sense to me. This whole journey has been about making connections, and I told her that nothing seems more important than that.
“It’s true!” she said. “I just took a class called Personal Health. They taught us that everyone thinks the key to happiness is having a lot of money. Or stuff, or good looks. But it isn’t! It’s the human connection. That’s what really matters.”
Her bus came. “Here, Jill, give me a hug!” she said. We held each other for a good long squeeze. Then she was off.
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