(Not) Reaching Out to Others

Another story from the Number 33 bus ride.

This morning I sat near a woman who was reading Marley and Me, the memoir of a dog owner that has been a national bestseller for some time. Those of you who have read the book know that there is a very poignant and sad part to it. I could tell, looking over the woman’s shoulder, that she had reached this part. She began to sniffle. She would look up frequently from the book, look around to see if anyone was watching, then return to the chapter, only to stop a minute later. Tears were welling in her eyes.

What would Jesus do?

I must admit I felt the temptation to put my hand on her shoulder, to say some words of comfort, or at least to acknowledge that I’d felt the same when reading that chapter, and that being moved at someone’s grief is no shame.

In the end, I did nothing. I turned away to look out the bus window at the Seattle skyline, and pressed play on the iPod. New Order captured my mood:

Answer me
Why won’t you answer me
I can’t recall the day that I last heard from you
Well you don’t get a town like this for nothing
So here’s what you’ve got to do
You work your way to the top of the world
Then you break your life in two


  1. Isn’t it amazing that a dance band can be so sad? New Order were brilliant.

    Trying to think if I were that lady if I’d have wanted a stranger doing anything, and I’m sort of torn on it. It probably would’ve made me laugh, thus breaking the tension a bit, but it would’ve been a laugh-sob, and that would be embarrassing.

  2. I think that any interaction (of such a personal sort) would have required some level of community. I’m not possitive, but I’d imagine that such a community doesn’t exist on bus 33.

  3. Maybe you could have wept silently with her? Laughter seems to be the only approved communal expression of emotion.

  4. John, I guess that’s kind of what I did; I recognized what she was reading and recalled that same experience myself. I felt a piece of what she was feeling. But what matters is that she know that she wasn’t alone, and that’s where I failed her.

  5. Personal interactions are what build communities. I have always been pleasantly surprised when I have made an effort to reach out to strangers. Despite these positive experiences, it is still much easier for me to look out the window and press play.

  6. Kris, you’re right on. My best mission experiences took place on buses scooting around the Paris suburbs. Even if we don’t hand out a Book of Mormon or even discuss religion, the act of reaching out to others — being a decent human being — is always worthwhile.

  7. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Just hand her a tissue if you have one, or borrow one from someone else*. It doesn’t take much to let someone know they’re alone. Handing her a tissue and saying “Yeah, that part got me too,” and leaving it at that unless she extends conversation herself would be good.

    *Yes, that would mean bothering someone else but I say hell with it, bother them anyway! If you’ve been reading “Mormon Mentality” you might have seen my post on a similar topic.

  8. Sorry PDoE, I guess my failures to reach out also apply to the Bloggernacle.

  9. Does anyone else think that Steve doing something to show her he noticed her emotions might have really embarassed her? Sometimes the best you can do for another person is allow them their privacy.

  10. Jared, you’ve obviously got a point there, since that’s what I in fact did. Now, my motivations weren’t as pure as those you describe — I was also saving myself some embarrasment and discomfort.

  11. But is there anything wrong with that?

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Jared, if sparing ourselves discomfort comes at the cost of letting someone else suffer alone….. then I’d say there’s something wrong with that.

  13. I suppose generally speaking you are right. Discomfort shouldn’t interfere with our doing something good. Crying is seen as such a weak thing in our culture, so discomforting to those viewing it. This obviously affects both the cryer and those who view the crying.

  14. If I were reading a book and were interupted, I probably would have been annoyed. I guess it depends on the length and dpeth of the interupton though…

  15. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    My point is that quietly handing them a tissue wouldn’t be that much of an interuption and might be welcomed. Would you refuse someone help because you don’t think it would be welcome? Risk it! Give someone the chance to make their wishes known! You know what they say about assuming.

    (Er, Steve I hope you don’t feel like I was upset with you. I just feel very strongly on this issue; I’ve almost forgiven my ward for what happened but ignoring people in obvious pain is still a sore point for me.)

  16. PDOE,

    Ingoring people you know who are in pain is one thing. Ingoring a stranger because you are affraid to make yourself and them uncomfortable is entirely differant.

  17. PDOE- The tissue is a good idea, becuase I don’t think it would be ok to just ask “are you ok?” or “can I help you?”

    I mean, if someone asked me if I was ok or needed to be helped my response would be either embarrassment or internal doubt that they could actually help me. Giving a tissue is saying “I can help you. here.” No embarrassment or doubt involved on the end of the receiver.

    Only Problem, I don’t carry a purse and only have what’s in my pockets. Maybe I could be like my dad and carry a handerchief…

    So is not carrying Spare Change, Tissue, etc., in anticipation of peoples needs a sin of omission? (Sorry for the english, but not sure how to correct)

  18. The fact that she kept looking around meant she didn’t want anyone to notice, right? So why would you interfere? Maybe I’m just a tough guy, but the last thing I want is for someone to call attention to me when I’m crying in a movie or during a good book. Just let me have a good cry by myself and I’ll be fine in 5 minutes. I even got in the shower when my grandfather died so I could be alone while I cried.

  19. When I was a very small boy,
    Very small boys talked to me
    Now that we’ve grown up together
    They’re afraid of what they see
    That’s the price that we all pay
    Our valued destiny comes to nothing
    I can’t tell you where were going
    I guess there’s just no way of knowing

    I used to think that the day would never come
    I’d see the light in the shade of the morning sun
    My morning sun is the drug that brings me near
    To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear

  20. Steve,

    There too is the possibility that she sensed your soft heart of concern, next to her on the bus. It also sounds like you followed the inspiration you were given, and the Spirit did the rest. Next time, the Spirit may whisper a different course of action. When she disembarked, did she still appear troubled?

  21. actually Pemble, I dozed off. She got off before I woke up. See? EVIL. Like the fru-its of the dev-il.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    If you were going to interact with her, it should have been along the lines #7 suggested. While touching her shoulder would have been a nice gesture if she knew you, I suspect that many women would not welcome the touch of an unknown man, even if kindly meant.

    I probably would have done as you did, though.

  23. Heaven, a gateway, a hope
    Just like the feeling inside, it’s no joke
    And though it hurts me to treat you this way
    Betrayed my words, I’d never heard, too hard to say
    Up, down, turn around
    Please don’t let me hit the ground
    Tonight I think I’ll walk alone
    I’ll find my soul as I go home

    Oh, you’ve got green eyes
    Oh, you’ve got blue eyes
    Oh, you’ve got grey eyes
    And I’ve never seen anyone quite like you before
    No, I’ve never met anyone quite like you before
    Bolts from above hit the people down below
    People in this world, we have no place to go

  24. There is a special bond between any two people who love the same book. I think she might have welcomed your gesture. But can someone crying over a good book be said to be suffering? It seems to me rather a form of ecstasy, which is why she may have been embarrassed to be experiecing it in public.

    I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy at least ten times, but it had been a while when I read Return of the King again after watching the movie a few years ago. I happened to be at a restaurant eating when I read the scene where Eowyn slays the Witchking, and I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face. I’m sure those people thought I was insane. Bwahahahaha

  25. Steve, (21)

    Yes……….I can tell you’re everything the “Church-Lady” warned us about so many years ago. My goodness man…..how do you look yourself in the mirror!?!

  26. “Temptation” is my favorite New Order song right now, Matt. Been listening to it on repeat.

  27. greenfrog says:


    I’m glad you’re in the world.

  28. I haven’t read the book, so maybe I just don’t understand, but your question makes me scratch my head. Why would someone reading a book need comforting? If it’s moving enough to cry over, that’s a great story, not a personal tragedy. I’d say silently offering a tissue is about as far as I’d want a strange guy on a bus to go if it were me. But I’m paranoid.

  29. PLEASE tell me I’m not the only one who thought the line was, “my morning sun is the truck that brings me milk.” Anyone?!

  30. any mouse, normally I believe the song “You’re Not Alone,” but in this case you really are. All alone.

  31. a random John says:

    As a nerd, I start each day with a clean handkerchief. Usually this is for my own personal use. Once when going to class I came across a guy who had wrecked his bike and was bleeding. I got out my handkerchief, assured him that it was clean, and helped tie it around his bleeding leg.

    A week later the guy showed up at my dorm room with a pack of brand new handkerchiefs. Turns out he knew my roommate and figured out who I was.

    Somehow I don’t think offering a handkerchief to someone on the bus would go over as well. I’m under the impression that most people think the whole concept is, um, gross. So I would hesitate to offer in a situation similar to what Steve describes.

  32. a random John says:

    any mouse,

    Given that PDoE is already plugging Mormon Mentality here let me invite you to check out my Primary Song thread in which all sorts of people have admitted to similar misunderstandings. Contrary to what Steve says, you are not all alone.

  33. If it were me crying on the bus reading, and you talked to me or gave me a tissue I would assume you were trying to pick me up. I would have been annoyed. I think the general rule is, if you see a stranger whos tearing up reading a book on the bus you ignore. If they are crying and hysterical its different. I really can’t imagine in the situation you describe why you would ever say anything to the girl. You would be invading personal space, imho.

  34. arJ,

    If the (lack of) entry in the Archive of Misheard Lyrics is any indication, any mouse really is all alone.

    (Of course, I didn’t see an entry for my own mishearing of True Faith, either. So I guess I’m alone too.)

  35. jothegrill says:

    I think what you did was just fine, Steve. You felt compassion and it enlarged your soul. Follow the spirit. Love people the best way you know how.

  36. any mouse says:

    So, Steve, you not only pointed out just how wrong I am, but also felt compelled to quote Michael McLean (30)?! Talk about adding insult to injury!

  37. any mouse, sometimes it is best to rip the band-aid clean off.

  38. I would have said, “I loved that book! I read it to my husband on a trip and we laughed and cried. Did you recently lose a pet? We had a yellow lab who died and we mourn that dog to this day. Aren’t they wonderful dogs?” I’d probably talk all day–unless she started, then I’d listen all day.

    And if she stiffened, I’d say, “my bad, sorry, shutting up now.” But mostly, they don’t. Sad people, I mean, they don’t stiffen when you reach out.

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