I embarrassed myself on the bus the other day. Though no one else noticed, I was struck by the deep sense of shame I felt.

I was taking the No. 4 along Whyte Avenue when the bus stopped for a guy with a bicycle. I watched him as he put his bike on the front of the bus and noticed how scruffy his clothes and beard were and silently hoped he would not sit beside me. I didn’t want to have to listen to someone argue with his shoes or his invisible friend. No such luck. He sat behind me and started making low, guttural, growling sounds.

Given all the incidents that have occurred in, on and around buses and transit stations of late, I found his noisemaking somewhat unnerving. Before the bus left, the growling man got up and went to the front of the bus. This made me think something bad was going to happen. It didn’t, the growler just deposited his soda can in a container beside the driver.

The bus continued on for a few more blocks and stopped again. The growler immediately jumped up and lifted up the seat in front of me that runs along the side of the bus behind the driver. At first, I didn’t realize what he was doing, but it quickly became apparent.

I was riding on a kneeling bus and the driver lowered the ramp that enabled a man in a wheelchair to get on the bus. The man in the wheelchair asked me to move so he could lock himself into the mechanism provided for that purpose. That is when I felt truly ashamed of myself.

Based solely on the look of the growling man and his odd, but not threatening noises, I chose to view him as someone with a mental problem who posed a potential threat to me and my well-being. What he turned out to be was a concerned and caring citizen who chose to help another without being asked.

I didn’t notice the man in the wheelchair before the bus stopped and would not have been as quick off the mark to help him as the growling man. I was quite ashamed to realize that at this stage in my life I am still more than willing to quickly judge a book by its cover.

– Terence Harding is a corporate communicator. He’s a keen observer of all things Edmonton; edmontonletters@metronews.ca.

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