I was sitting at a bus stop in Nashville on a cold November night feeling like I was about to freeze to death. I was lonely. I was depressed. I was angry. I had lost my job due to Hurricane Katrina and had to live in Nashville in order to pay the bills. My family was in New Orleans and I had no car. I had never depended on a bus for my transportation so it took me a while to figure out how they worked. This meant I spent a great deal of time in the cold, waiting for a ride. I also wasnâ€™t really used to the cold either!Â
I noticed a man, who turned out to be in his early forties but looked much older, walking briskly up the hill to the bus stop. He was obviously a painter, dressed in a white shirt and white pants. He started talking to me 20 feet before he got to the bench where I sat. His name was Tom.Â
â€œMan, itâ€™s freezing out here! How much longer we got to wait?â€ asked Tom.
I smiled and said, â€œI have no idea.â€
â€œHow long you been here?â€
â€œThat donâ€™t help does it?â€ The buses in Nashville run every thirty minutes or sometimes only every hour.
â€œNope. Iâ€™m not used to this cold. I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™m going to make it. I might go over to Fridays and call a cab. Iâ€™m dying here.â€
â€œWhere you from?â€
â€œShit. I was raised down there. From Cameron. Do you know where that is?â€
â€œNo, is it toward Lake Charles?â€
â€œYeah, itâ€™s really small. My grandfather raised me. Damn we was poor. He was a dirt farmer.â€
Dirt farmer? Why would anyone farm dirt? I didnâ€™t feel a joke was appropriate. Just then, a small car stopped across the street and a woman stepped out and crossed the street to where we sat. We moved over for Annie so she could share our bench.Â
â€œEveninâ€™â€ â€œEveninâ€™ mam.â€
â€œLike I was sayinâ€™ we had to eat greens and tomatoes and corn. Whatever we could grow. We didnâ€™t eat a lot of meat. But you know. I could use some greens and hot cornbread right now.â€
â€œYes, Jesus.â€ Annie smiled.
â€œI wish I was rich though. I never had nothing. We were happy though, but if I was rich, Iâ€™d never ride another bus. Folks like us have it hard.â€
If he only knew. I wasnâ€™t like him at all. I had never ridden a bus before I was forced to move to Nashville. I have a PhD. In theology. My parents had a lake home. We werenâ€™t anything alike. Except that we sat there in the cold waiting on a bus together.Â
Annie spoke up, â€œOh no darling. You donâ€™t want to be rich. The rich, they got lots of problems. They forget what life is all about. Spreading blessings. Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re supposed to be doinâ€™. Most times, but not allâ€¦rich folks forget that.â€ The conviction in her words shook me. Since Katrina, I had spent most of my time away from New Orleans. I felt that I had abandoned my family, friends, and neighbors.Â
Tomâ€™s gregariousness seemed to melt as he dipped his head. He was visibly shaken. â€œBut I ainâ€™t never had nothinâ€™. Iâ€™ve never been able to give anything to anybody.â€Â
â€œOh sure you have, baby.â€ Annieâ€™s confidence was reassuring to both of us. â€œI know youâ€™re a good person. Youâ€™ve spread your blessings without even knowing it.â€Â
Tom didnâ€™t move. I became very uncomfortable. In the brief time I had known Tom, he hadnâ€™t stopped talking. After what seemed like an eternity, Annie said again, â€œSure you have baby.â€Â
After another awkward silence, Tom slowly raised his head. â€œWell, thereâ€™s this older man at the assisted living facility where I paint sometimes that I give cigarettes. Nobody ever comes to see him so I give him cigarettes when I go there. He really appreciates it.â€Â
Before I could try to work through the ethical ramifications of Tomâ€™s statement, Annie smiled and said, â€œThere you go. You are spreading your blessings. I knew you did!â€Â
Tom smiled. â€œI guess it is. I never thought it was a big deal, but he ainâ€™t got nobody to give him cigarettes.â€Â
When the bus came, Tom, Annie, and I sat in different places. I thought that was kind of strange and wanted our conversation to continue. I wanted Annie to remind me of the real meaning of life and perhaps share more of her thoughts about God. She got off the bus several blocks into our trip. After she stepped off, a young man boarded and sat next to Tom. He noticed the bulge in Tomâ€™s breast pocket and asked if he could â€œbumâ€ a cigarette. Tom said sure. He looked at me and we shared a smile.