I missed the bus that day and he offered to buy another ticket at the platform; when I thanked him for his generosity he said it was just a couple bucks. His face was young but long, deep lines crossed his forehead as he smiled, handing me the stub. I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that I was avoiding something, couldn’t think through the noise and the Thai phrases I didn’t understand. All I knew was that I needed that ticket to keep me traveling keep my body ambling on unfamiliar land.
The bus came; every vehicle I rode like that carried me further away from my responsibilities, the bills to pay, the goals that seemed to beat my will; offering up some vagabond existence with a backpack and clearer thoughts to fill. I sat next to the window and that man. After a while he turned in his seat and started sharing stories with me. He talked about his daughter, Janine: a genetic disorder had made her right side weak. At three months old she had a stroke from the tumor in her brain.
He said soon after he developed the same disorder and almost never woke up from his hospital bed. Three months of rehab released him but Janine’s tumor was still growing in her head. At two years old she went into a coma on Christmas Eve; they predicted the hemorrhaging would cause a lot of pain. On Christmas day she woke up and the doctors removed the left side of her brain. I listened to his stories quietly as he wiped his eyes, suffering in his memories. His voice shook.
With palms raised skyward he explained she was thirteen when the driver lost control of the van and rolled it six times off the highway, ending her life hardly after it began and killing her with four other members of his family. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said sadly he sure missed her smile. The tumors came back for me, he went on, and now I live not knowing when they’ll take my life. I hope to die doing what makes me happy. I nodded my head trying my best to offer him my empathy.
He said something about simply suffering without an obligation to praise the cause of it. He trusted God once but he couldn’t warrant the nonsense anymore, couldn’t understand why the nonsense was permitted. Who wanted to know the fatal good and evil with such a high cost to it? I felt the weight of his question drying up like concrete in my soul. He said the whole world of knowledge was not worth the tears of his baby girl, her maimed walk, or the cruel impact killing his family. If God loved us, then how could he let it happen?
I could only shrug, remain quiet, and look away. I felt ashamed I couldn’t think of anything more significant to say. There we were framed in awkward silence and I wished my silence sounded a lot more like God. I could feel his eyes questioning me sadly. My suffering was not the same but I was human too and could easily have that tumor in my brain. If it was compassion that saved us, then I shared the suffering of every person in the world: and the world was right there inside that bus. He smelled a lot like sweat and we sat there a long time.
Finally the bus pulled to a stop and I made my escape, cringing at my own incompetence. He stepped off to light a cigarette. His hands couldn’t stop trembling and he broke into a sweat. I didn’t have an answer for him, it was more than my words could say; I vaguely wished that somehow I could pay for his ticket if not all the suffering he’d never forget. But I could see my bus was leaving and travel was on my mind. I was thinking of new locations away from my own obligations; I planned to leave them all behind. Like a lot of people now, I hoped to change my place.
That was almost a year ago and now I stand here sharing his story and I still can’t state my response. Because it’s my words that make my answers weak. I could say I hear you brother and I’m sorry, but words don’t mean so much. I still don’t feel my body’s mortality; I think I have a long life to live, but in reality…I see her tiny broken body leaning sideways as she tilts her shaven head to look up into his face; I see her soft eyes, the smile he misses so much. And I left hoping someone would be more than my empty words to him; I hoped he’d accept a ticket at a different platform.
A special thanks to you, Tobias, for sharing your story
to watch go to 42:40