What I’ve learned from my transgender child

My second child, known as “Baby” Busling on this blog, is nonbinary.*

They’ve been telling us in different ways throughout their 10 years on this planet, but they told me directly—or as directly as they had language for—at age seven. The words they used were “gender neutral,” and they explained those words to mean that they didn’t feel like a boy or a girl, or maybe they felt like both a boy and a girl, or maybe, they felt like something beyond all of it, something that English does not have a word for.

When they first told me, I said all the correct, affirming things that parents are supposed to say in these situations.

But inside, I was devastated. I didn’t want a ticket for this particular ride. Even as I searched for children’s books about gender and met with teachers to discuss my child’s identity, I secretly hoped this was a “phase” they would soon outgrow.

For one thing, I simply didn’t understand.** We had raised our children to question gender expectations and norms. We had told them that their gender did not limit who they could be in this world. I wondered: If my child can be a boy and still dress and act and be however they please, why do they need a different label for it? And if they grew up understanding that boys come in all different packages, how do they know—in their bones—that they aren’t a boy?

But much stronger than the confusion, which I could live with, was the fear. I was devastated, not because I believed that there was something wrong with my child, but because I knew there was a lot wrong with the world they lived in.

Raising a Black child in this sick, violent, white supremacist culture is terrifying. I have struggled with that truth since my daughter was born in 2007. But at least a Black child can find some refuge, encouragement, and safety in the Black community. Where can a Black transgender child find refuge, encouragement, and safety?

Every time I looked to my sweet Busling’s future, all I saw was rejection and violence. In those first months (really, years), I was ruled by fear. And if I’m honest, it wasn’t just for my kid; I knew that the rejection would extend to me. My parenting would be questioned. I would be forced to reckon with bigotry in what had previously felt like circles of safety.

In other words, I could no longer simply profess solidarity with transgender people. I could no longer limit my support to sharing my pronouns or participating in the occasional march. I would have to live in the world from the other side of the divide, to actually experience the contempt, the erasure, and yes, the danger.

But fear is one thing. And love—love—is another.

I can’t make the world safe for my child. Full stop. But I can make my heart and my home safe for them. I can walk beside them with pride. I can stare down bigotry whenever (and in whomever) it arises and insist that everyone in my child’s life honor their full humanity.

I don’t understand what gender is. But the one thing I know for sure is that my child is beautiful.

They have always seen the world from a particular vantage point. For as long as they’ve been able to talk, they’ve astounded me with their astute, insightful observations. I’m constantly asking myself how it is that it took me over 40 years to unlearn nonsense that this oracle of a human sees through right away.

Busling is a gifted visual artist, writer, and dancer. They enjoy origami, welding, basketball, baking, and nurturing almost anything living. They hate bathing and practically live in torn, stained t-shirts and jeans, but they also love dressing up in fancy, sparkly outfits and gathering dropped camellia flowers to pin in their hair.

They will play any game (outside or in), with anyone, anytime. If I walk by someone on the street in need of help and neglect to stop, they always remind me. “Mom, didn’t you see? That person needs a few dollars for food.”

If this is what it means for my perfectly made, second-born child to be who they are, why would I want them to change? Why would I want them to “fit in”? I can’t take the particular beauty of this particular human and leave their gender. It’s one package.

Watching the person I had the honor to bring into this world understand, name, and embrace who they are has shown me who I am. And I don’t like what I see in that mirror.

I am a rule follower, someone who regularly chooses acceptance and approval over truth and freedom. I have spent my life tiptoeing and contorting, hoping to be liked, to be picked, to be “good.” As a child, I was such a pleaser that I rarely even knew what I wanted; I just automatically did what was expected of me. Because I didn’t know how to be true to myself, pain and confusion leaked out in other ways. It’s been a long road back to me, and to be honest, I’m still on it.

Thank god for beautiful Busling, my teacher. I watch the way they look inside for guidance, the way they walk in the world with courage, and I am convicted.

I am honored to walk beside them on this journey.

I want to be brave like you
Image description: A piece of purple construction paper with the words, “I want to be brave like you” written in a child’s handwriting

***

*If you don’t know what this means, the Gender Reveal podcast has a really great Gender 101 episode.

**I’ll admit that I still don’t—at least not fully. But my child’s identity is not for me to understand. It’s for me to support and accept.

Breakfast with the ancestors

Even before COVID-19, I didn’t fly much. Like my decision not to drive, it started as an attempt to limit the resources I—only one human out of billions—consume. But it soon became a way of life that suited me: staying grounded, finding adventure and newness and discovery close to home. We take the family to Detroit once a year to visit my in-laws, and occasionally, my spouse travels for work. But mostly, we stay put or find alternatives to flying.

The biggest thing I miss about traveling is, interestingly, the same thing I miss about driving: visiting people I love. So many girlfriends I live far from have asked and asked (and asked) to schedule a girls’ trip, and I always find a reason to put it off.

But in late January, my friend of many years, C, lost her mother, and staying put was not an option. C requested that, in lieu of traveling to New Jersey for the funeral, our friend T and I visit her in the DMV after it was over, during the quiet, lonely time after the chaos.

T and I made the trip in the last days of February. It was a perfect visit, spent mostly catching up: hours of sharing, laughing, crying, eating, drinking, and (bonus!) riding the Metro.

Because I had never been, we visited THE museum, and it was every bit as profound and beautiful as I had imagined. I felt all the feelings. We stayed all day.

A place–and a day–I will never forget
Image description: Exterior of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Right before the museum closed, I happened upon a small book in the gift shop: Rosa Parks in Her Own Words. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you know that Rosa Louise McCauley Parks is one of my sheroes—certainly because of her involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is one of the most remarkable stories of organizing and solidarity and commitment and resilience in the history of humanity. But also because of the incomparable courage and dedication to justice that she demonstrated throughout her lifetime of activism.

Rosa Parks is my chosen ancestor. My firstborn carries her name. She is a guiding light.

So of course I bought the book, which was published early this year and includes letters and personal notes and other papers that were only recently made publicly available.

In the evenings, after C, T, and I had talked ourselves out, I would lie on my hotel bed and flip through the pages, staring at the photographs of her handwritten notes, feeling equal parts voyeur (Should her private papers really be available to strangers?) and loyal daughter learning sacred traditions.

A beautiful surprise
Image description: Book cover of Rosa Parks in Her Own Words

In the middle of our trip, T received a text from a friend back home. There’d been a death from COVID-19 near Seattle.

Before that text, coronavirus was in our consciousness but not top of mind. We’d heard about the fast spread in China and about the first known U.S. case being identified in our state. Weeks before we left on our trip, elected officials and public health experts had begun encouraging us to wash our hands thoroughly and frequently. News of the death was alarming, but coronavirus didn’t feel like a direct threat.

I made it home on the evening of March 1, full from my girl time, ready to rejoin my family and return to my routines: library trips, neighbor visits, walks to dance class, and of course, bus rides.

Instead, I returned to an escalating emergency.

Performances canceled.

Fundraisers canceled.

A memorial service (for someone very special to me) canceled.

When school was canceled, I knew we had crossed into unknown territory.

On the first morning of everyone home, I woke up early. I felt a need to serve my family, to do something grounding and comforting that would bring us together at the beginning of a scary and uncertain time.

I opened that little book I had bought in DC a few weeks (and an entire lifetime) earlier and turned to the page with the photograph of Ancestor Rosa’s famous (in her family) “featherlite” pancake recipe, written in her own lovely handwriting on the back of an envelope.

Rosa Parks’ handwriting looks exactly like my grandma;s
Image description: A photo of Rosa Parks’ recipe for “featherlite pancakes”

As I read my shero’s notes and gathered the ingredients, I felt a deep connection to her. She was with me as I measured and mixed, as I heated the skillet just so.

Image description: A pancake cooking in a skillet

Rosa Parks’ life was so unjust and difficult. As a young girl, when the Klan terrorized her town, she had to stay awake all night, the windows of her grandparents’ home boarded up and her grandfather sitting in the rocker with a gun across his lap, prepared to do whatever was necessary to protect his family. As a young woman, she spent her non-working hours investigating sexual assaults against Black women for the NAACP.

During the boycott, she endured near-constant death threats and lost her livelihood. (She and her husband dealt with financial insecurity for many years after the boycott ended, even after they moved to Detroit.)  She suffered stress-related health problems, including painful, persistent ulcers. Despite being introverted and extremely private, she spoke at large events across the country and submitted to countless interviews.

And yet, on some mornings, in the midst of the trauma and uncertainty and physical suffering, she rose early and mixed batter, stood patiently at the stove until it began to bubble, served stacks of fluffy featherlites to loved ones—with butter and syrup, or powdered sugar and jam—perhaps with a side of bacon or grits or scrambled eggs.

I was comforted by this thought then, and I am again now, as I set my alarm to wake early tomorrow morning and cook Sister Rosa’s famous featherlites for my family.

Breakfast, courtesy of my chosen ancestor
Image description: a tall stack of pancakes on a plate

“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds, will continue in others.” – Rosa Parks

Missing the bus

Back in the Before Times (aka, two months ago), when I actually went places, I would sometimes rent a Zipcar for the day, usually to visit family and friends who live outside of reasonable busing distance. Of course, when it comes to buses, I’m not above pushing past what is reasonable, but other obligations and service limitations do occasionally constrain my ability to spend an entire day traveling 23 miles.

I digress.

On those Zipcar days, every time I found myself driving near a bus or rolling past a full bus stop, I would feel a pang, even a bit of FOMO. Seeing a bus when I’m not riding hurts my bus chick heart.

This is how I feel every day now when I go outside—usually to walk in circles around my neighborhood—and I see 3s and 4s and 8s and 27s and 48s rolling by, often completely empty. Except these days, it’s not a just a brief pang. It’s an ache, a cracking open, an interior crumbling.

It’s grief.

As a naturally anxious person who has lived through many of Metro’s ups and downs, I have rehearsed a fair number of transit disaster scenarios in my head. But never, not even in my worst anxiety spirals, did I imagine the current reality: that the bus would become a vector of a global pandemic, that anyone with the option to stay home would be asked not to ride, that loving your community would mean not riding the bus.

How can I explain what the bus means to me? I have been writing this blog for 14 years and still have not managed to put it into words.

The bus is my stability, my comfort, my assurance that the world is as it should be. It is my opportunity to be with other people I would otherwise never have the chance to meet.

On the bus, I am invisible but also seen, alone but in community, moving but sitting still.

I can participate in conversations or (my specialty) observe from the periphery, absorbing, empathizing, integrating all of it. Or I can tune it all out and look out the window to watch the world.

When I am on the bus, I know that I belong. To my city. To humanity. To the ancestors.

I know that this is bigger than my personal loss. Drivers are risking their lives to transport people who must travel. Major service cuts are limiting those people’s access to food and jobs and medical care. The economic crash caused by this disaster will make it near impossible for Metro to restore service when it’s finally safe to ride again.

But the thing about the bus is that it is both personal and collective. My loss is the community’s, and the community’s loss is mine.

And right now, it feels like a cyclone has hit, and we’ll never get back home.

We are all bodies with needs

A few days ago, I started my period. This was insignificant in the big picture of my life—I’m 48 (!) and have been getting my period (roughly) every 28 days for 34 years—but significant to the coming week: my periods tend to be long and heavy and accompanied by debilitating migraines.

My period is one way that I mark time (as in, “Damnit, again?!”), so when my monthly visitor returned (uninvited) in the midst of a global crisis, it somehow felt unfair. At a time when almost everything else has been canceled,* periods persist?!

Yesterday morning (day three), I listened to a podcast while preparing (read: popping migraine meds and fortifying my menstrual cup with period underwear) to teach my class. The episode topic was disability justice, and the entire discussion was instructive. But as the conversation was wrapping up, one of the guests said something that grabbed my attention. For context, this was her full comment.

“And one of the things that it makes me think about … is the reality that we’re all in bodies. You know, it’s not like we’re just abstract thinkers that are somehow leaving our existences outside the door. All of us are always in our bodies, engaging with each other. And all bodies are valuable, and all bodies have needs and strengths and desires. And oftentimes, it’s expected that our needs get kind of left at the door somehow, which is impossible. And all of us have a variety of needs.”

Patty Berne on Irresistible podcast, “Organizing in a Pandemic: Disability Justice Wisdom

What I heard was this: We are all (all of us, not just those society defines as disabled) bodies with needs. We cannot separate ourselves from our bodies’ needs.

Soon after absorbing this wisdom, I logged in to Zoom and managed my 90 minute class—including the logistics of connecting a guest speaker—while bleeding heavily and fighting a headache.

This was hardly remarkable. Some variation of that scenario has been my reality (and, likely, the reality of untold numbers of people who menstruate) through hundreds of periods. But for the first time, I saw it differently. I realized that I was ignoring my body and its pressing needs in order to get stuff done.

Throughout my life, I have ignored (or hidden) my body’s needs again and again. Some examples:

  • Struggling through school and work in an achy, sleep-deprived fog in the early years of my period, when excruciating cramps kept me awake all night
  • Ruining numerous pairs of pants when I taught high school, because–period or not–I couldn’t find time to use the bathroom between classes
  • Commuting 15 miles (two buses plus lots of walking) to work and working full days during my first pregnancy, despite being exhausted and nauseous every moment of every day
  • Busing to Mercer Island on weekday evenings for Regional Transit Task Force meetings when my youngest was still a newborn, struggling to participate in the three-hour discussions while my breasts filled with milk and my arms ached for my baby
  • Lying under my desk in the shared workspace at the nonprofit I worked for, hoping my migraine would subside before my next appointment (usually a donor I was supposed to ask for money) arrived

I realize now that I have always carried shame about my body’s inconvenient needs, especially when those needs were related to menstruation or reproduction. It never occurred to me that I was actually pretty freaking amazing to manage work and life despite significant physical discomfort and logistical challenges. It certainly never occurred to me that it was OK to miss school or work for my period, or to cancel a meeting because of morning sickness or a migraine.

When my youngest was a week old, my spouse returned to work. I was fortunate to be able to stay home with the baby while I continued with regular life: writing my column, caring for our two-year old, and managing the household.

One day, when I was out and about with my newborn strapped to my chest and my toddler in a stroller, I ran into an elder friend who had raised her children in her home country of Eritrea. My friend told me that in her culture, when a woman has a baby, mother and baby “go to bed,” as she put it, for some months.** The mother’s extended community handles everything, and her only jobs are to rest and feed and nurture her new baby.

I remember aching with longing as she described this way of being, wishing for all the world that I could take my exhausted, sleep-deprived self “to bed” with my baby.

There are so many reasons this wouldn’t happen in the U.S. (one being that few of us have an extended community that would—or could—support us in that way), but one of the most important is capitalism. Our culture doesn’t value wellness, or bonding, or rest, because those things aren’t profitable. And because we live in a patriarchal society, we don’t value work that is traditionally performed by women.

I wish I could nurture my previous selves, tell them it’s OK to rest, that there’s nothing shameful about having a body with needs, that you don’t have to push, to deny, to “keep up” with everyone who seems to be managing it all better than you.***

Since I can’t do that, I will do my best to nurture my current self and to change the culture I’m a part of. I will rest when I am tired or sick. I will honor the rhythms of my body. I will remind myself and my children that there is nothing shameful about needing care, or medication, or accommodation, or extra time. And there is nothing abnormal or embarrassing about having a body that bleeds every month.

I will focus on others’ humanity instead of their output. I will encourage students and colleagues and community partners to listen to their bodies instead of sacrificing them to the religion of “productivity.” I will stand in the gap when I am able, trusting that others will do the same for me when I am not.

May all of us embody the care, peace, and rest that this moment demands.

Ase.

“Our bodies are a site of liberation.” – The Nap Ministry

* And speaking of … One day soon, I’ll write about how much I’m missing the bus in this new reality, but I’m not ready yet.

** I don’t remember anymore how long she said this period of time was. I think it was three months, but it could have been one.

*** Except you sort of do, if you want to pay your freaking rent. But whatever.

Shelter and safety for everyone

I met my friend Lawrence* because he lives in my neighborhood, and I know—at least by sight—most people who live in my neighborhood. Lawrence and I frequent the same bus stops and walk many of the same routes. After crossing paths numerous times, we officially introduced ourselves. Eventually, we became friends.

Lawrence has lived in Seattle for his entire life. Because he can no longer afford housing, he now lives in his van, which, as far as I can tell, isn’t running. The front windshield is smashed, and at least one of the tires is flat. Lawrence often needs money for propane, so he can keep warm at night. Like me, he suffers from a condition called Raynaud’s Syndrome, which causes pain and numbness in the hands and feet during even mildly cold weather. He also has arthritis.

I worry about everyone in our city who is unhoused. I especially worry for those people whose faces and names I know, people I have formed bonds with. Every single night, I worry about Lawrence.

Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lawrence and I exchanged numbers. I told him to call me in case of emergency, like if he was out of propane, or just needed someone to help him problem-solve. About a week later (around the same time our region was beginning to understand the seriousness of coronavirus), I decided I could no longer live with the idea of him suffering on the floor of his van night after night. I texted to ask if he’d like to spend a few days in a hotel. He said yes.

I chose the Best Western Pioneer Square because I know someone who has stayed there several times and liked it. It is a fairly short bus ride from our neighborhood, is clean and comfortable, and includes a hearty breakfast. I called to make a reservation, then took the 27 to the hotel to provide my credit card and give them Lawrence’s information.

As I waited in line, the hotel staff were very busy, answering calls from people canceling reservations and helping guests check out early. It occurred to me that the fallout from this pandemic had created an opportunity for an emergent strategy of sorts. Hotels were losing business and would soon be empty. Unhoused people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. What if we, concerned citizens of Seattle (and every city), pooled our resources to rent newly cheap hotel rooms for our homeless neighbors?

When it was my turn to register, I attempted to provide the hotel with some information about Lawrence, who, not surprisingly, isn’t as clean or neatly dressed as someone with access to shelter. I struggled with whether I should say something; I didn’t want to violate his privacy. On the other hand, as a person of color, I know for sure that disparate treatment happens. Lawrence is both homeless and a person of color, so I wanted to make sure that he didn’t experience any hassles when he arrived to check in.

I said, “This room is for my neighbor. He’s fallen on some hard times and is living in his van, and I just want to ensure that he will be treated with dignity.”

The person who was helping me leaned forward and widened her eyes. “Are you saying that he’s HOMELESS?”

I said, yes, that’s what I was saying. She said that the hotel doesn’t “do” homeless.

I should have left immediately, but I felt pressed. I had already given Lawrence the hotel’s information, and it wasn’t always easy to reach him. I had to help another neighbor with childcare (back when we were still allowed to do that) in less than an hour.

So, I pushed back. I said the room was paid for, Lawrence was a human being, and the hotel’s policy amounted to discrimination. She doubled down on the discrimination and asked me to assure her that there wouldn’t be any drug use.

Finally, after conferring with a coworker, she agreed to let Lawrence stay. I reserved the room for three nights.

On the third night, I decided that I could probably swing at least one more. Nighttime lows were still in the 30s, and I hated to imagine Lawrence back in his van under those conditions. I called the hotel to extend. The person who answered the phone cheerfully looked up my reservation. But as soon as her computer retrieved it, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m not going to be able to extend this reservation.”

I asked if I needed to come in and present my credit card again. She put me on hold. A moment later, a manager picked up. “We’re not going to extend this reservation,” he snapped. “If the guest can’t afford the room, then he shouldn’t be staying here.”

Lawrence is now back in his van. Everything is closed—libraries, community centers, coffee shops, every public space—so his van is the only place for him to be. I don’t see him very often these days, because I rarely leave my home. But sometimes, when I am out for fresh air, I see him walking to the store to buy water; he has no access to plumbing. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how likely it is that he’s able to wash his hands at all—let alone frequently.

Even though we had a bad experience with the Best Western Pioneer Square, I’m still convinced that the idea—to provide guests for empty hotels and safe housing for those in our community who are most vulnerable right now—is a good one. Certainly, there are independently owned hotels that are on the verge of closing completely that would welcome a steady source of income.

All of us are threatened by this virus, and all of us are suffering from the havoc it has wreaked on our communities. Think about how you’re feeling right now—how lonely, fearful, and uncertain. Imagine spending every hour of every day uncomfortable, with no distractions, no people out on the street to help you with a few dollars, feeling abandoned and desperate AND scared of getting sick.

As we do everything we can to keep ourselves healthy and financially afloat, we can’t forget our unhoused neighbors. We as a community need to offer them more than “socially distanced” mass shelters. One obvious, short-term solution is for the city to rent rooms in empty hotels (owned by compassionate, openminded people) so that everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, can stay safe—and as comfortable as possible—during this challenging time.

Can we find the will and focus to make this happen?

Image description: people holding a sign that says, “Housing is a human right.”


*Not his real name, which is much more awesome

Southbound 60, 12:25 p.m.

Two high school students are sitting behind me, discussing the week ahead.

HS student #1: “Look at all these babysitting jobs on my calendar. That’s why I don’t have a social life—because I’m always babysitting these damn kids.”

HS student #2: “I don’t have a social life because … Asian parents.”

Spiritual lessons I learned on the bus

For as long as I can remember, the bus has been a part of my life. At certain times, it has loomed large, like when I was eight years old, riding across town by myself and feeling like someone who could be trusted with responsibility.

Or when I was 21 and couldn’t afford a reliable car but needed to get to work and school and wherever else I was going back then.

Or when I was 31 and decided to give up the car I could finally comfortably afford to become a born-again bus rider.

Now, I am 47. I have been living without a car for 16 years. The bus is still a big part of my life, but it doesn’t have the same surface importance. It is always there, facilitating my life—cherished, but not so much in the forefront of my awareness as a Really Great Transportation Option. My appreciation has moved to a deeper place.

I have always know that buses connect us by providing opportunities to share space, experiences, and conversation. I am just beginning to learn that riding the bus, if you are open and humble enough to accept the lessons it offers, can be a spiritual practice. This is true whether you love the bus or hate it. Maybe especially if you hate it.

Here are some of the spiritual lessons I have learned from my longtime love.

Practice surrender.
More often than I would like, I have to wait a long time for my bus. Sometimes this happens when I am in a hurry, or managing children (though mine don’t need much bus-stop management these days), or exhausted. Sometimes, it happens when it is raining, and there is no shelter at the stop. Sometimes (oftentimes), it happens when I am feeling impatient: wanting to be in motion, in progress, on the way already.

Occasionally, in those moments, when I feel the urge to pace, or check my phone, or pull out my book or to-do list to “kill time,” I decide instead to surrender. Surrender to being “bored,” to getting wet, to maybe even being late, and just accept the moment for what it is.

Surrendering can mean engaging in an interesting or deep or silly conversation with my kids or spouse. It can mean taking a breath and paying attention to my surroundings. Or it can mean squeezing everyone under one tiny umbrella and resigning myself to wet socks.

We don’t control when the bus comes, and we don’t control the conditions under which we are forced to wait. We do control what we do with the moments we spend at the stop.

Practice hope.
About five years ago, I had to attend an evening political meeting for work. By the time the meeting was over, it was close to 9 p.m., and I was in a hurry to get home. Back then, I didn’t have a smart phone, so I headed straight for the bus stop—which was several blocks away and in an isolated area—without checking a schedule.

I was a block and a half (plus a street crossing) from the stop when the bus pulled up. I knew that even if I ran as hard as a could, there was no way I was going to catch it. But I was so desperate to get home, so motivated to NOT have to stand at that deserted, dark stop for 30+ minutes until the next bus arrived, I decided to run for it anyway.

It was not a pretty run. I didn’t have on the best shoes. My bag and papers and meeting clothes (and, ahem, body parts) were flapping and bouncing all over the place as I stumbled along at my highest speed, fully expecting the bus to pull away before I even came close.

The bus stayed put.

I kept running. The bus kept staying.

By the time I made it to the stop, out of breath and disheveled, the bus was still there. I didn’t then and don’t now have any idea why.

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter.

When you run for the bus, you don’t know what might happen. Maybe (probably) you won’t make it. But maybe there’s a wheelchair that needs to be buckled in. Maybe someone will ask the driver for directions. Maybe a passenger will see you and ask the driver to wait. Maybe the stop is a time point, and the bus is a minute early.

You don’t have to worry about any of that. The only thing you have to do is run as hard as you can until the bus drives away.

Or, until you catch it.

Be curious.
I have the type of brain that likes to judge, label, and categorize. I’m an observant person, so I tend to notice patterns. My guilty pleasure is to sit with my spouse and categorize and label all the different people we encounter—on the bus and otherwise.

But every time I get curious and try to see the person behind whatever label I’ve attached, I learn. The more I practice this, the better I get at it, and the more often I remember:

We all love. We all suffer. Most of us are doing the best we can.

Judgments and assumptions isolate us from the people we encounter every day. Curiosity brings a richness to our interactions. It shines a light on others’ humanity. And it strengthens our own.

Don’t take it personally.
I often say that the best thing about the bus is being surrounded by other people. And, the worst thing about the bus is being surrounded by other people.

Sharing a ride with the people you share the world with can ground you in your community, help you feel less alone, and deepen your empathy.

It can also be annoying as hell.

Over the years, I have (semi-)regularly been cut in line, pushed aside, propositioned, called names, and interrogated about my ethnic identity. And don’t get me started on the bus fouls I’ve witnessed!

What I’ve slowly come to learn is that strangers’ behavior towards me is not about me. (How could it be? They don’t even know me.) Their rudeness is about their own issues and whatever they are going through in the moment.

I can set boundaries (a la Chicklet, who is a pro) or respectfully ask for what I need (for example, a seat, if someone has their bag on one), without taking the behavior personally or letting it affect my own mood.

Take it personally.
Just because a person’s bad behavior is a reflection of their own issues doesn’t mean that we can (or should) accept it. If someone is being harassed, and you are in a position to help, you should help.

Look for the beauty.
Everyone who’s ever been on a bus knows that it isn’t always pretty. But I know that it is always beautiful.

By way of explanation, I offer these recent tweets.

Finally—and always:

Breathe.

Unless, of course, that would be a bad idea.

Noticing is my new religion

After a few years of planting saplings in our woods, my crew has leveled up. These days, we’re collecting pine cones and trying to grow trees from the seeds. The results have been mixed (OK, we’re failing), but the process has felt like a revelation.

How has taken me 46 years to recognize the miracle of a pine seed?

It has never been hard for me to appreciate the majesty of The Mountain. Or the ocean. Or a vast forest. But somehow, I never noticed that a seed is all of that, an entire world, packed into a tiny spec.

And it’s not just the seeds. As I come to terms with the deep brokenness of the big picture, I’m starting to notice small miracles all around me. In the thank you card from my five-year old niece. In her baby sister’s wrist rolls. In the water that runs from my eyes as I chop onions for soup.

In all of the human hands and all of the earth’s gifts that made it possible for me to bake my Chicklet’s 11th birthday cake. In walking to dance class in the twilight.

In twilight.

In watching my 3rd grader fall asleep to the sound of my heartbeat.

In earthworms. Slugs. Sword ferns. Spider webs.

In waking up on this day.

 

God at the bus stop, part II

Last Thursday, I barely missed the 8 on my way home from an errand and so found myself alone at a bus stop, loaded down with potting soil and live plants and with a decent wait ahead of me. It was one of those close-to-the-road stops with no shelter or bench or trash can, only a damp ledge in front of a nearby apartment building. I dropped my load and sat on that ledge, feeling restless and ready to get on with my day.

But on this particular Thursday, I decided to push through the restlessness. To not sink into a book or my phone or some other distraction to “kill” the 12 minutes OneBusAway told me I’d be there. Instead, I sat on the ledge and waited.

It’s October, so the trees were showing off, alive with that fleeting explosion of color that always feels like magic. The leaves were falling, not in big clouds like they do on windy days, but one at a time. The maple tree closest to my ledge released each leaf gently, like a mama bird pushing her baby out of the nest. I felt like I was part of something sacred as I watched each one drift to the dirty street.

Those twelve minutes I spent waiting have as much to do with why I ride as the extra time to read and connections with fellow humans. After all these years, my life on the bus continues to transform me. It reminds me that I am not in control, even if these days the waits are shorter and we have tools that can tell us just how long those waits will be. It teaches me to cherish the moments life offers me to simply be still.

And watch a bright orange leaf sail into the gutter.