It happened again today.
I got on a crowded streetcar and as I moved down the aisle, a young man looked up from his seat, stood, and motioned to me, “Sit here”. I’ve heard others complain that no one ever offers a seat anymore on busses and subways. They say that such etiquette is a thing of the past. Not true when I travel. This experience isn’t even unusual for me, despite how little time I spend on public transit. Sweet and thoughtful people look at me kindly and rise to let me sit down.
I can only assume that it’s because they have noticed my white hair. My brunette hair began to grey in my 30’s and it’s been white for years, although I haven’t yet reached retirement age. I’m healthy and without physical disability. Caught off guard by their gesture, I usually say, “Oh, thank you, but I’m fine!” with an appreciative smile, but they insist, and their faces are so eager and solicitous that I take their place even though I don’t want to. Today, after the young man had vacated his streetcar seat and I, just to be agreeable, sat down, I then had to crane my neck awkwardly and raise my voice to continue the conversation with my still-standing companion. She’s young and blonde but no one relinquished their seat to her so that we could chat comfortably. Why would they?
Truth be told, I enjoy the swaying sensation of standing in the rocking vehicle’s aisle, hanging onto a support pole, because it’s a rare chance for me. I am not employed and when I travel by mass transit, I’m happy to leave any available seat to the poor souls who endure tiring commutes between home and office.
I feel heartened that folks are so generous as to offer their respect and consideration. I’m also grateful because whenever this happens I get another chance to practice patient humility as I thank them and obediently sit down.
And then there are some other emotions, like chagrin. These friendly folk don’t suspect that they are betraying how elderly and feeble I appear to them. I imagine their thoughts, “Poor old thing!” Their motives are purely kind, but they leave me wondering. Did I not leap up the bus stairs fast enough? Was I slouching? Am I wearing outdated clothes? Have they not seen anyone under ninety with natural grey hair? Should I get a brush cut and streak it with bright orange? Tattoos, maybe? Some chains, piercings and black leather pants? Is it make-up I lack? A facelift (shudder)?