It was a bad day. I was frustrated with my painting, my studio mate had hurt my feelings, Chris was away and I was lonely. It was pouring rain and I had just missed my transfer by mere seconds, so I had to wait 20 minutes on the next bus, which was late, of course.
I got on and managed to get a seat up front by the window. I was feeling sorry for myself and looking out the window when he got on at the next stop.
I’d seen him around. When the weather was nice, he walked up and down my street most days. I figured he lived in the neighborhood, since I knew there was a group home for mentally disabled adults.
The first few times I saw him, I was intimidated. Even in August he wore a long dark coat with the hood pulled over his face. He always seemed a little on edge, so I gave him plenty of space. But then I caught a glimpse of his eyes, and realized he was just scared. So I started making a little more effort.
When I saw him on the sidewalk or at the bus stop, I’d smile and say, “Good Morning.” The first time I did it, he nearly jumped out of his skin. Gradually he got used to me, but the best I’d gotten from him so far was just a startled, haunted stare.
But that day on the bus, he pulled his hood back to shake the water out of his hair, and I caught his eye. I remember thinking, “If I can get him to smile at me, then this day might actually turn out okay.”
So I smiled.
And he stared. Then looked away.
But a few seconds later, I caught him looking at me out of the corner of his eye. So I smiled again.
And he stared a little longer. Then he pulled his hair over his face.
But on the third try, he didn’t look away. Something in his face changed, and for just a tiny second the corner of his mouth turned up.
Many times I doubt myself. I doubt that I’m good at what I do, or that I make a difference in the world. But when I think about that moment on the bus, I know that I was doing something right that day.
It turned into a good day after all.