Things I See on the Bus

Here we are, a first post about the philosophy of the everyday. I was riding the bus home from class, a not uncommon occurrence on a day when everything is running late, and from my seat behind the driver, I found myself distracted from my Greek translations. Clearly running behind, he nonetheless paused in order to be kind, smiling as he patiently waiting for a few elderly people boarding the bus as they fumbled with their change. He even waited until they were securely seated before pulling away from the stop, despite their lack of haste costing him vital seconds. It was a small kindness well-received by its intended recipients, but one that I could not let go unanswered. After some thought, I stepped around the divider which stood between us and said “Sir, you are a good man.” Which isn’t true of course, it doesn’t seem as though there’s any such thing as good people, it’s an ideal that’s ultimately unreachable and a little silly. But there’s people who do good things, and that behaviour, if rewarded, can result in further good behaviour. However boring or interesting the rationale for my actions was, my train of thought was derailed by his next words as surely as if it had hit a hairpin turn doing 110 (that’s kilometers, not miles), sending it sailing off into the unknown.

“I try,” he said. This made me curious.

“Really? Like all the time?” In my stupefied failure to grasp the obvious, I had begun speaking like a terrible stereotype, as I do from time to time.

“Well yeah,” he said, “Every day is a new chance to try a little harder.”

Well shit. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? I had every once in a while, but hearing it come from the mouth of this ostensibly normal person made it seem much less like a notion hatched by a mad bastard like myself. We made smalltalk for the rest of the trip, and as I wandered home from my stop, I wondered if there was some sign, some universally recognizable symbol I could devise that would exemplify what he’d said so that I would never forget it, and could use it to key up similar thoughts in others who were familiar with it. For four blocks I mulled it over, struggling to paint a picture with the sentiment that filled his words. Then, I realized that someone had already done it. There was something that expressed everything he meant and everything I wanted him to mean. It looked like this:

Superman embodies everything he was saying. Everyone knows the story. he comes from another planet, growing up on a farm, truth, justice, and the American way and all that. But when you really look at it, what’s it about? Doing what he can, every single day. Managing stakes that we can only imagine, he does everything he’s able to and never quits trying harder. Not everybody’s a good person. Hell, there’s no such thing. Not everybody succeeds every minute of every day. But we can try. We can debate the basis of ethics, the particulars of kindness, and notions like cultural relativism for years (and have), but at the end of the day it seems like that Superman philosophy can carry us pretty far. Not the character itself, a pumped up uber-masculine figure who’s subject to market forces and routinely indulges in status quo maintenance of the facepunching variety, but the idea of Superman, the essential parts which are there. One of the taglines for the first Superman movie was “You’ll believe a man can fly.” And I don’t know if I will, but I’ll believe a person can give a damn. If they try. Yesterday, I spent thirty seconds to cross the street and help up someone who had fallen, and for that thirty seconds, I was Superman. When were you?

Doing what I can.

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