I gave up my car some years back. It was one of my better decisions; I can just sit back and let someone else take the strain of driving. The time to relax, work and think is invaluable. I’d thoroughly recommend it! I can honestly say that not having a car can open up your world. I have never before interacted with so many strangers, from a brief chat with the person sitting next to me, to helping someone in need. It actually makes me feel good too!
It’s taken a bit of getting used to. What I didn’t anticipate at the time was how much public transport is a shared space. Having spent many years behind the wheel, I had become used to my car being my private little oasis; the only people who shared this space were those I invited into it. It was strange at first, but I soon learned how to ‘zone out’ when I need to.
Most journeys are uneventful, apart from the usual delays. But there is one particular journey that tested my strong desire to be ‘left to my own thoughts’. Since then, and it has been over a year since this happened, I have reflected on the experience many times.
This particular journey demonstrated how we can all jump to conclusions and would prefer to shy away from anything that challenges the status quo. It also demonstrated that by challenging your (or in this instance my) shortcomings and taking the plunge to interact, you can make a massive difference to another person’s life – no matter how small or insignificant you think it is.
This is the story of the guy I met on the bus.
I got on the bus to go into town. It was a lovely summers day and the bus was full – apart from one seat next to a man who’s demeanour was somewhat off-putting. He was talking loudly into his mobile phone in an effort, it seemed, not only to convey a message to the person on the other end, but to also announce to everyone on the bus that he was angry. He had succeeded, noticeable by the deafening silence and by those in front of me actively making their way as far down the isle as they could to avoid the empty seat. I could feel the tension of my fellow passengers, and you could understand why. His behaviour was very threatening.
Now, I am the sort of person who will walk into a fire and ask how hot later, but even I had my reservations about sitting next to him. I told myself that if I didn’t go and sit down next to him, then I have learned nothing from my years working in mental health. And so I did, much to the relief of those around me. Listening to the one-sided conversation I began to realise why he was so angry – he wanted to tell everyone that he wasn’t feeling ok. He was asking for help, and at the very least, to be understood. This is a summary of the details I gleaned from his conversation:
He was a Sergeant who had recently returned from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was going into town to meet some of the guys from his regiment and he didn’t know what state he would be in when he returned home – if he returned home. He anticipated that the way he felt right now, he was likely to get into a fight and be picked up by the MP’s, or worse… he might do something to himself.
“(Name) was going to be there – he was the one who had his legs blown off. It will be great to see him. God he has suffered. And it was my fault. I should have done more to protect him. He was my responsibility.”
“No one knows what it’s like out there. What you see and what you have to cope with – the women and the children suffering. And I can’t get over those guys on the train – spitting at me. Why, after all I’ve been through?”
I felt for this guy. No one, other than those who have served in wars, can understand what it must be like, and he was obviously hurting. When he had finished his call, I nudged him and held out my hand to shake his – the only thing I could think of at the time to connect with him. He looked at me puzzled and suspiciously.
“Respect” I said. “I can’t begin to understand what it must have been like for you out there, but respect”.
He relaxed instantly and shook my hand. We had a brief conversation about his plans that evening before the bus reached its final destination. We said goodbye and went our separate ways. A minute or two later I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the soldier.
“Thank you, that really helped”. He turned and walked back into the crowd.
3 simple steps
Step 1: Look after yourself
(Recognise distress early, find ways to help yourself to cope, and know when to ask for help & support)
Step 2: Look out for others
(If you see someone needing help or is in distress ask if they are “OK”)
Step 3: Offer help & support
(Only if you feel able to – keep it simple and know your limitations)