empathy III


I narrowly missed a bus going home.

It was raining.

The bus had just pulled away from the curb.

It wasn’t moving; there was a long red light at a major intersection.

I stood on the curbside next to the bus’s front door, waved at the driver, and got her attention.

She wouldn’t open the door.



A Hispanic guy whom I at first didn’t notice arrived at the curb a moment later; he had seen what had happened.

He seemed dismayed on my behalf.

What was it to him? New Yorkers are supposed to not have time for others. (Actually, the opposite is usually the case.)

I don’t recall his exact words. He said something like, what’s wrong with these bus drivers? She couldn’t let you on? And so forth.



That could have been the end of the conversation. But, noticing his Spanish accent, I asked, “Habla español?”

We talked for a minute or two about English versus Spanish: learning to speak. He said (so true) in essence that if you know how to spell a Spanish word you always know how to pronounce it. It’s the opposite in English, he said. He gave the example of diner being pronounced differently than dinner.

I told him that he definitely had an accent but his speech seemed to indicate command of English grammar and usage.



We had a five or ten minute conversation which covered a lot of ground. NYC, mainly. How long he has lived here. What he thinks of it. How he likes it, but it’s way too expensive. New York has become a city only for rich people, he said.

Boston, where I come from. He wanted to know what the climate was like there. A bit colder and more snow, I told him.

He remarked on the fact that you get to experience the change of seasons here.

I asked where he came from.


Mostly through my asking him, he told me the name of the capital and second largest city in Honduras, how long it takes to fly there (five hours), the climate (warm year round), and that it’s surrounded by water and beautiful beaches. He named the five countries that make up Central America. (Chitchat can be very educational.)

He had recently been to Seattle. Liked it. But expensive, he said. Almost more so than New York. He mentioned a fragrant smell of pine cones. Always cool, he said.

He has relatives in Canada. Mostly in Quebec. We briefly discussed French Canada. He said they spoke a different type of French there than in Europe (as he put it). Also, Winnipeg (he has relatives there). We discussed where it was. Neither of us knew for certain.



Another bus arrived. As I was about to get on, he said, “God bless you.”

The words came to me. I replied, “Que Dios lo bendizca.” I got it slightly wrong (it should have been Que Dios lo bendiga), but at least I knew to use the subjunctive.

He seemed pleased.



When he first spoke to me, that was empathy by definition. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. No matter who, how close you may or may not be, and how big or small the other’s situation or misfortune appears to be.


— Roger W. Smith

   March 3, 2020

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