I knew it was raining when my class was interrupted by the squeaking from the hallway. By the time I left the building to cross a small breadth of campus to my second course, it was merely a light rain, and when after that course I crossed to the bus stop, the light rain hadn’t picked up a great deal–but on account of now standing in the rain, by nature it seemed heavier.
I got on the bus, the standing crowd moving slowly toward the back to make room for the new recruits at the front.
Then on we went–and onward I shall forthwith go.
I enjoy watching people on the bus. Yes, at times I might spot someone whose beauty exemplifies the word, and with due shame I might catch myself staring, imagining how I might describe the structure of their face or the drape of their hair in words succinct enough to capture the same image in my stories, but more often I am merely amused by the behavior of the crowd. People will come in and if a seat is soon spotted, they shall take it–otherwise they will stand, even when there are numerous seats toward the back of the bus.
I have no problem sitting at the back of the bus, except for this one time when I did sit at the bus and the guys back there were invested in a conversation I felt no need in being a part of nor sitting in close proximity to–but that is the exception, not the rule, and on rainy days especially, the crowd control is more curious.
For example, there were at least two empty seats at the back, two seats that could have been filled by those standing to allow more room for new passengers–and yet, they remained empty the entire bus ride, even as the front half became increasingly congested.
Second, I hate it when a seat opens up next to me. I happen to enjoy standing quite much–it’s a great way to practice my balance and imagine I’m riding through something fantastic, like on a boat full of pirates, cast sideways by the waves, or in a ship shuttling through space whose pitch and yaw threaten to topple me at any moment–but I digress. Sometimes fantasy is best left inside the mind, not spewed forth with abandon.
I also feel awkward offering my seat to others. I imagine a conversation progressing something like this:
ME: Would you like my seat?
FEMALE: Do I look like I need your seat? I am a woman, boy, and I am perfectly capable of standing on my own. I don’t need your seat like I’m weak and unable to hold my footing.
Then again, the world might not be as feminist as I imagine.
Contrariwise, the same argument could be used to aptly argue one’s rightful place in the seat despite many others still standing:
PERSON: May I have your seat?
ME: Not at all, my dear fellow human being. I believe we are all inherently equal, no more or less capable of upholding our own belongings than the next in line. I have as much a right to this seat as any other, and I would shame myself by shaming you if I decided to grant you this seat, for doing so would suggest–although I dare say I am not suggesting this–that you are somehow less than I, that on equal footing we are inherently inequal, and I could do no greater injustice to you as an individual or to all humankind collectively to bastardize all notions of equality upon any level all for the course of ten minutes sitting on the bus.
But honestly, I’m always happy to give my seat to anyone who might want it, but perhaps my approach to offering it is too overthought, too overwrought, to be effective.
So while I rode the bus today, when that seat did open right beside me, I kindly asked those standing on either side if they’d like to sit, and when they declined–in an attempt to provide more spacious accommodations to those still standing–I sat down and finished the bus ride thusly.
Sometimes I wonder how I make it through the day–if I put this much thought into riding the bus, imagine how much more thought I spend deciding how best to breach a crowd outside my classroom!
Thankfully, it’s usually considerably less–but when it’s not, well!
After leaving the bus, as I watched with one eye that beautiful human being walking away, his path diverging from my own (cursing all the while that I never did get a strong grasp on convergent series), my other eye happened upon an unfortunate sight: A frog, turned on its back, part of its splayed lower legs crushed by the foot of an unwary wanderer, its lungs deflating and inflating with such slow strokes, I felt a tinge of guilt in walking on.
But in that instance was the world.
You know, it’s not an uncommon sight, dead frogs. I see them somewhat regularly, the poor things fallen upon the sidewalk, entirely dried up and shriveled into a husk of the amphibian it once had been. It’s not typical, however, to see one still half alive in the rain, on land but still submerged, its life in the hands–or under the feet–of those many souls fated by course of room assignment to tread past it–or upon it.
I thought I could step on it. In an instant its pain would be stripped away and its torturous last moments brought to an end. But then I thought that despite being humane, it was still cruel, to unkindly take another life, and what had already touched another’s sole was quite a mess, and I wouldn’t want to have to clean that from my soles–for surely, to revel in the corpse, scraping it from the crevices of my sneakers, would injure me at a depth not touched by witnessing a moment of suffering.
I considered taking it to the side of the road–but what good would this do? Still it would die, since frogs–the last time I checked–could not regenerate entire limbs, nor live on with prosthetics, and at least lying in the road, its plight could touch others as it has touched me and maybe, just maybe, another would be able to end its suffering where I could not. Besides, I hadn’t had any hand sanitizer.
So what to do with a dead frog?
It occurred to me as I moved beyond it that my professor was right, that Rousseau had been right–that humans are innately compelled to compassion toward suffering, but that reason stays the cause and turns us cold. Whether in the bus, leaving seats open when filling them would give great benefits to the whole, or on the walk inside, contemplating how to best react to a dying animal and deciding ignorance is best, reason draws lines and divides us. An excess of reasoning–for religion, for politics, for interpersonal discomfort–leads us to stray from our nature, to overwrite compassion with excuses. And I don’t know how it makes you feel, when you realize this is what’s become of us, but as I watch crowds clamoring through the rain and hear reports of states threatening to secede, it leaves me feeling rather empty on a Tuesday afternoon–rather hopeless after all.