Riding the bus is usually a mundane experience. You smile at the bus driver, find a seat and avoid eye contact with others who are also avoiding eye contact with you while at the same time checking out hair styles or interesting tattoos.
Most of the time you can be anonymous as you sit in seats in rows, staring at the backs of the heads of those in front of you, or over the heads of those on the far side of the bus in the priority seating near the front.
But the other day, I marched to the back of a newer bus to find a vacant seat and was surprised to see the benches facing each other, like on the GO train. I sat down, avoiding banging the knees of the person opposite me as we both preemptively apologized, and sat looking toward the back of the bus, trying to avoid staring at the person opposite me. It was unsettling to not see where I was going.
A person getting on at the next stop flatly refused to sit in the seat across the aisle from me, telling his companion he can’t stand the face-to-face seats. He finally perched beside me, facing the aisle, while a chatty stranger commiserated with him. Once they and the person facing me got off, the chatty stranger moved from his backward-facing seat to the forward-facing one across from me.
He commented on his move, while I inwardly kicked myself for not thinking of doing the same thing as I struggled with the discomfort of travelling backwards. He jokingly commented “I know we’re supposed to remember where we come from, but I’d rather see where I’m going, especially in this city.” We shared a chuckle and another few comments, and then I got busy looking for the backside of landmarks to see how close I was to my stop.
As I got up to leave, we exchanged smiles again and he said, “Have a safe day.”
A safe day. The unusual words caught my attention. Have a safe day. I decided I liked it. It felt more considered, more authentic.
Wishing someone a nice day is so generic and near meaningless. And to wish someone a good day is almost the same. Most days are such a mixed bag of experiences—certainly not all good. And to suggest they have a great day—well that is a stretch. How many days do we have that meet the criteria for greatness? Some days, that is just asking too much.
But a safe day, well that seems a more kindly, thoughtful wish. And hopefully obtainable. Hopefully I won’t stumble off the bus steps or trip as I cross the street or have any of the other innumerable possible accidents that sometimes we feel (or others warn us) are waiting to happen. Most days I do end up safely in my own bed.
But safety encompasses more than physical protection. Perhaps this kind stranger is aware of the need for emotional safety as well. I felt warmed by the idea that his well-wishes might include safety in relation to memories of where we’ve come from as well as where we’re going, especially in this city.
As the day unfolded, I found myself looking at others and wishing them safety—safety from the taunts of bullies in the schoolyard or online, safety from biting comments from colleagues, from disdainful glances on the bus, from the pain of hearing parents’ arguments. Safety in the presence of a responsive parent who cares about their day, safety with a partner who responds with acceptance instead of criticism, with a counsellor who listens to their worst and still looks at them with tenderness, safety with their teacher who doesn’t criticize their project, safety with peers who don’t laugh with the bully.
Yes, safety. A powerful relational space—and something we can not only wish for another, but help to create.
Safety—not a pie-in-the-sky wish, but something we can offer in our words and tone and gaze.
I hope you too have a safe day—and that you make it safer for those you encounter.
Susan Winter Fledderus is a Clinical Therapist with Shalem Mental Health Network