DEAD LESSONS

I forgot my ear buds, so I was forced to listen instead to the random conversations on the bus… most of which were dull and lulled me into the stupor that mass transit induces.  Living in a college town in the autumn means lots of discussions about beer and football.

And death apparently, if the exchange I overheard between two former lovers is any measure.  A young girl got on at Vine and University, laden with a heavy backpack and a smile.  It vanished when the young man seated in front of me jumped up, took her arm and tried to kiss her.  She wrenched the arm from his grasp and turned her head.  “Please don’t touch me,” she said.  “You have no right.”

He looked chastened and said nothing as he retreated back to his seat.  She sat down next to me and retrieved a book from her bag.  For several minutes a silence hung between them, as if much needed to be said, but neither was willing to break it.  The man looked over his shoulder more than a few times before finally heaving a sigh and telling her how much he’d missed her.

She never looked up from the book.  “You made your choice.  Now live with it.”

Ah, something worth listening to, thought I.  I put on a pair of dark sunglasses and feigned a nap to better observe them.  I felt like that spy in the house of love.

“Won’t you even look at me?” he pleaded.

“No,” she said firmly.  “I won’t fall for that again.”

He searched her face, but she refused to meet his gaze.  He looked ashamed.  “Will you ever forgive me?”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” she said, looking up at last.  I noticed that she kept her eyes averted from his.  “What you did to me, you’ve done your whole life.  I’m just one of many missed opportunities.”

With that, he turned around and faced forward.  The girl returned to her reading and I, thankfully, got off at my usual stop several blocks later. 

I couldn’t help but imagine the circumstances that had flung the young couple together, or those that had divided them.  This wasn’t the florid exchange between overwrought teenagers, but a thoughtful one that showed more wisdom than one expects from college kids.

I saw a few people dressed in costume and remembered that it was Día de los Muertos.  I chuckled to myself.  It seemed fitting that death and forgiveness were the highlights of my bus ride.  Whether it’s the end of life or just the end of the road, no one can move forward without permission.   To forgive is not to forget, but rather the refusal to carry another’s burden.

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