By Sister Nancy Linenkugel, OSF
Maryland’s Light Rail service brings together an eclectic mix of individuals. Boarding a light rail train to downtown Baltimore recently was an adventure. The car I boarded was jam-packed, so I ascended the steps and joined other standees in the aisle, doing my best to hold tight to an empty spot on the railing and trying not to crash into other passengers as the train cars careened along.
That worked fine for a few stops. But then a large wave of passengers entered from a busy station. At least nine persons pushed onto and into the car, and the last of those was an older woman wielding a cane who attempted to step into the car right when the outer doors began to close. She bargingly pushed the doors open, uttered a few choice words as she slowly ascended the steps, and loudly proclaimed, “I’ll sue ‘em again just like I did the last time. I ain’t even over that injury yet.”
She and I ended up as standing-pole buddies; the car rocked along the track and we kept jostling against each other as we held tight to the same pole. As the train approached downtown, more people exited at each stop. Eventually seats opened up and we both found places to sit.
“Are you the one I kept bumping into?” a voice from across the aisle said. The sense that someone was talking to me jarred my gaze from the window scene onto her. She was looking at me expectantly, so indeed she was talking to me. “Well, it was good that we both found seats, wasn’t it?” I replied cheerily. “And none too soon—my leg is still giving me trouble,” was her response. She then proceeded to engage in conversation with others nearby who had boarded with her and who referred to her as Momma B. I resumed looking out the window but was aware of her sharing about her lawsuit, how she was still going to rehab, how she needed $2 right away, and could anyone help her, thank you very much.
“You have beautiful hair, hon,” came the voice again. I looked at her and realized that she was looking at me once more. Momma B repeated, “I really like your hair. It’s natural—no coloring or anything. I like that.” I thanked her and responded that my hair is simply what God gave me. She nodded and gave a smooth “uhmm-mmm” in agreement. “That’s the way it should be. God is good.”
Momma B appeared to be someone who had had her share of struggles in life—lame leg, missing lower teeth, needing $2. Her own hair was combed straight up and held in place by a cloth headband, giving her a strange mushroom appearance. Her earlier comment about suing Maryland Light Rail a second time made me wonder if I would regret talking with her.
But that wasn’t the case. Not at all. We chatted about where in town I was going and she was very helpful regarding what train stop I should take and where to walk from there. She was an engaging person. And she took the initiative to compliment me. There was something Franciscan in this encounter—perhaps more coming from her than from me.