A little girl got off, her head coming perhaps midway up my thigh. She jumped down the long final step, probably half her height — and then she turned around, and with that serious expression children wear only when they're about important adult business, put out her hand.
I suddenly noticed that the next person coming down the steps was an elderly lady with a cane. A half-beat later, the bus driver, whose job is to notice these things in a timely manner, caught on and lowered the corner of the bus — with the old lady in the stairwell, gripping her cane and the railing for dear life.
I was trying to figure out how I could offer to help the lady without stepping on the little girl, when she reached out and, with the most delicate touch, took the girl's hand. Brought her cane down to the ground with her other hand, and without of course actually putting any weight on the child, gave the little girl what she so obviously considered the great privilege of helping her down.
After I got on the bus, I watched them as long as I could, walking down the sidewalk together, holding hands, as bound by love as any two people I have ever seen.
Until I was six, my mother's Uncle Jesse lived with us. An old man, badly bowed by arthritis, he walked, slowly and painfully, with an old wooden cane. He had infinite patience and endless stories for a little boy, and I loved him with total devotion. When he was feeling up to it, he would take a daily walk to the end of the road — perhaps a quarter mile, but for him, very difficult and very important. I would accompany him on those walks, holding his hand, listening to his stories, basking in his love.
I hadn't thought about it in thirty years or more, but my mom used to tell stories about how I would hold out my hand for Uncle Jesse to steady himself on when he stood. In that little girl today, as through a lens in time, I saw the little boy. I am honored to have been him.