Sometimes I find myself on the Los Angeles Metro, in the morning after rush hour, riding south from downtown towards the museums, as I did a few days ago. This light rail and subway system is being built at great expense, though doesn't come close to the long-gone trolleys that knit together far-flung LA until the 40s. But I digress.
Outside of rush hour the riders on this line are mostly minority, predominantly African American. There was a sprinkling of college students of all races plugged into their phones, a couple of tourists, a murmer of soft Spanish, and middle-aged white me, but most of the riders were black. I was sitting a few rows from the front, next to the window.
A beautiful young African American woman was standing by the driver's door. It was a warm day, and she was wearing shorts and a stylish T. Smooth-skinned with sparkling eyes, she looked about 19 or 20, too young for the baby carriage she was standing next to. She was joking with a tall young man across the aisle from my seat, both smiling, talking loudly, though it seemed like a casual encounter, not a relationship. Sitting in one of the front seats ahead of me was a slightly older woman.
I heard a clank-clank sound, of coins being shaken in a large styrofoam to -go cup. "Change?" asked a husky voice. "Any change?" An old black woman, heavily built, wearing a long dark skirt and stained sweater was edging down the aisle on a waft of unwashed- body smell. The students stared at their phones. I looked at mine too. The young man stopped talking and edged further into his seat.
The woman sitting in the seat in front of me got up and walked to the back.
There was only the girl and her baby at the front of the car. There was a soft conversation, though I couldn't hear the words. I heard "clank". Over and over, "Clank", as each coin the girl pulled from her purse fell rhythmically into the beggar's cup, this beautiful young girl the only one greeting this suffering homeless woman, greeting her and gifting her.
The old woman sighed and sank into the front seat, the one that faces the aisle and says "for the elderly and disabled". I could smell her, though she was several rows away. I looked up briefly, and realized suddenly that there was a rip in her dark skirt extending down from the waistband so that I could see the flesh of her thigh and a fold of her belly rolling over it. Her ankles were swollen. Her eyes were closed, her body clearly aching. She got off at the next stop to ride the train back to continue begging.
Grace, gratitude, and generosity. The picture stays with me.