Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Woman in the Vast Blue Coat

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Woman in the Vast Blue Coat

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

One morning long ago when I was on the pre-dawn bus from Chicago's North Side to the city center, a passenger in the back died. She was in the second row from the back, on the east side, facing Lake Michigan. The bus driver did not know her name. No one knew that she had died until the bus sighed to a halt at our usual final stop at Randolph Street and everyone shuffled off except the woman in the back. She was wearing a vast blue coat.

It was my habit to leave the bus last, because I liked the driver and often stood for a moment chatting with him before walking to work, so I waited for him at the door of the bus as he went back to wake up the woman in the vast blue coat. He was a gentle man, the driver, and he reached down and gently touched the shoulder of the woman's blue coat, and said quietly, ma'am? Nothing happened and he waited another ten seconds or so for her to wake up slowly. As he said later he himself knew full well what it was like to wake up on the bus when you did not remember you had fallen asleep, and there is an adjustment period of a few seconds as you shift gears from the dream world to this world, and you should be allowed those few seconds to shift gears, and I try to run a gentle bus, considering the hour.

He bent down a little then and spoke gently into her ear but again there was no response and now he bent down fully and looked at her face closely, and then he knelt down. The way he knelt down is what I want to tell you about. He was no young buck, this bus driver, and kneeling down was no unconscious easy act, you could almost hear his parts creaking, but he knelt down slowly on both knees, and took her left hand in his right hand, and put his left hand first against the right side of her face, cupping her face for a second as you would cup the face of someone you loved, and then he put his middle fingers on her carotid artery, on the right side of her neck, to feel her pulse. He left his fingers there on the right side of her neck for about ten seconds. I saw this from where I was still standing motionless by the door of the bus. Outside the morning was brightening noticeably by the second, as if someone was pouring sunlight into the city with a huge measuring cup. …

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