by Colin Betts
Salt Lake City, Utah
“Gayle” is about 40. She handles some situations with all the sophistication of an 18-year-old. Sometimes, though, she behaves more like a child. For example, when she sees her friend “Mary”, the child breaks through and she applauds and cheers as her friend comes into the bus.
Mary isn’t Gayle’s only friend. Others who ride the bus live in the same neighborhood. When they see her, they share greetings, exchange jovial banter and listen while she talks — for a while. Then, after a few moments, they settle into their seats and turn their attentions to their seat-mates, their newspapers or something outside their windows.
Talking with Gayle is difficult. She has never learned to consistently modulate her voice and, when she talks, everyone in the bus can clearly hear her every word. And they have heard most of the words before — each day, she talks about the same things. Although, on good days, there may be a few new items added and some of the older ones dropped.
Constant repetition can become boring. Is it surprising that most of her friends settle into their own seats and shut Gayle out once they have made a token effort at communication? But Mary is different. As the bus pulls up to her stop, she is always engaged in an animated conversation with others. Still, when she comes on the bus, she moves directly to the seat beside Gayle. There, she smiles her warm, loving smile and settles in to listen to Gayle.
Mary doesn’t say much; mostly she listens, and this seems to be exactly what Gayle needs. How many people are willing to listen to daily reruns? Not only does Mary listen, but she actively works to keep the conversation going. Each time Gayle finishes a topic, Mary asks her a question. This is all that is needed to start Gayle sharing more of her likes, her experiences and her wants.
Sometimes Gayle tires before the ride ends, leans against the side of the bus and takes a nap. Instead of letting this bother her, Mary watches out the window or reads a book. She’s there for Gayle and if Gayle wants to sleep, that’s fine.
Why does Mary share her time with Gayle? Many others would gladly spend time with someone as vibrant and alive as Mary, and they would provide more stimulating and rewarding conversation. They would share rather than monopolize the conversation. But Gayle needs Mary. She needs someone who can listen emphatically, someone who will give her a hug and a kiss when they part. She needs all the Marys that she can find. So do we. We all need someone who cares enough to share their time and their love, even if the Gayles of the world tend to be loud and repetitious.
Me? I drive the bus and have watched and listened to these two ladies for the last two months.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.