Written by Jacqueline Ryan
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
– Albert Schweitzer
The night before, I hadn’t slept because I had been up fighting with the boy I desperately loved. I’d found ‘Suzanne’s’ phone number in the pocket of my boyfriend’s jeans after he had not come the previous the night from our favorite nightclub, “Luv-A-Fair.” How ironic. Not only was he was completely unapologetic, but he was angry at me for discovering his indiscretion! When I dragged my tired, sorry ass into work that blustery morning, my smarmy boss, a married movie producer who treated me like garbage, informed me that I had been replaced by a younger, blonder version of myself – one who hadn’t shunned his sexual advances as I had for the past year. I tolerated his cruel misogyny only because I was young and naive and I wanted to work in the film industry so badly that I thought if I didn’t endure his disgusting abuse, I would lose my future altogether. As I locked up the office at the end of the day, I felt sadder than I had for a very long time. Hollow. I wanted to go home, curl up into a ball, and disappear.
The deluge outside was coming down so fast I couldn’t believe it was actually possible for it to rain that hard. It was fitting that I didn’t have an umbrella that dark day. “That’s about right,” I thought. In that frame of mind, I accepted my bleak fate. I figured it was just how my life was going to be from now on – that somehow it was appropriate that I was being rained on, and that I was getting exactly as I deserved. My shoulders dropped and hunched in as I was completely exposed to the torrential downpour. The massive drops splashed across my melancholy face, and the tears streaming down my cheeks were picked up and carried down rivers of rain on my skin, hanging precariously off my trembling chin until they slammed down onto the cobblestone streets of Gastown. I was grateful for the monsoon so I could weep profoundly, and my tears would be concealed from the dismal world at large.
Soggy, cold, dejected and lonely, I shuffled along the puddled streets, asking myself over and over again: “A fire used to burn so brightly inside… Where did it go? Why has my fire burned out? Where is the spark I once had that made me fearless to live life fully? To challenge myself and overcome diversity? To conquer anything?” These were very real and serious questions to me. I had lost the old me. At 27, I just felt like a loser with squishy shoes, heels worn down to the nail, who was almost out of a job and wouldn’t be able to feed my cat – my only friend. All the way to the bus stop I ran it over and over in my mind… Where is my fire? Where did I go?”
When the city bus finally pulled up, I saw that it was packed like sardines. Wet, sweaty sardines with oversized backpacks, too much perfume and stinking armpits. My long blonde hair was drenched and heavy, dripping and pressing flat against my skin… my mascara running like big black spiders on my vacant face. I shuffled in to take my place amidst the jostling downtown commuters. I had a long way to go.
Aware that I would have to stand at the front of the crowded bus, squeezed between damp bodies and briefcases, I glanced around, searching the faces of everyone who I thought must have a better life than me. That’s when I saw it – far in the back of the bus – an empty seat. Surprised, my eyes traveled to the occupant beside it and I understood immediately why no one else was sitting there. He was fat and unwashed, probably in his forties but looked like seventy, his hands blackened and calloused, clothing stenching and torn. His beard was a product of zero hygiene and his bulbous nose gave away his lifelong relationship with alcohol. He looked disgusting. “Perfect,” I thought. “Next to him is exactly where I belong.” I pushed my way to the back and sat down, overwhelmed by the reek of stale booze. I settled in.
It was an eternity on that bus, and I had the feeling of being in suspended animation as the buildings rushed by, blurring my stinging, swollen eyes. Each stop, door opening, closing, I stared into the nothingness, continuing to wonder where the fire was that had once burned within.
When we finally reached my destination, I reached for my bag and began to rise out of my seat. That’s when the old bum turned and looked right through me with his soft, kind blue eyes. The icy cold blood in my veins warmed instantly, as an electric current poured from him into me. I gave him a faint smile – all that I could muster – and I swear what happened next is completely true…
He began to speak, uttering twelve words that forever changed me. In his deep, gravely voice, he whispered, “You have a fire inside of you. Don’t you ever forget that.” I shivered.
Paralyzed, I had no words to speak, and there was no need to. He knew I knew. I knew he knew. It was like that. In that moment on the idling bus, time stood still… and I was transformed. I understood that it was all bigger than me. That I was connected to everything – to The Universe, to the drunk on the bus. Everything. He was not sitting there next to that empty seat by accident. No way. I thanked him and his blue eyes smiled gently at me.
I stepped off the bus and deeply inhaled the fresh ocean air after the rain had subsided. The clouds lifted… and so did my heavy heart. There was clearing of blue in the sky, and as I stood there watching as the bus pulled away, my bus mate stared straight ahead to ride out his own journey. My spark was reignited that day, and the fire within me blazes brightly still… and I will never, ever forget my angel.