Column: listening in on a thought provoking conversation

Malik Harvey, Staff Writer

We got to the Greyhound bus lines a little after 12:00 p.m. Sunday. I squeezed my mom tight, gathered my belongings and said I’d shoot her a text when I got back to Grand Rapids. 

Due to the unreliability of my F-150, the weekend saw me heading to Detroit and back to Grand Rapids on an Indian Trails bus. 

Friday’s bus ride is what most introverts dream of; out of 56 seats, only 15 of them were filled. Sunday was different. The question of “Who has a claim to the middle armrest?” grew legs and whispered in every ear that day. 

Unbeknownst to me, we were to make several stops: Southfield, Troy, Flint, East Lansing, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. It was the stop in Flint where I saw the man, the myth, the legend. Jesus (or someone who looked like him).

This pale Jesus character donned a white robe tinged with yellow, a red shawl, long brown hair that appeared lifeless, a full beard and a pair of drab, all-black Dr. Scholl’s. He pranced around in circles outside of the bus for a while. Sitting in the seat closest to the window, I had a front-row view of this gregarious Jesus look-alike.

Carrying an oversized book bag with flowers sticking out its left side, the young man eventually swaggered his way onto the bus. As he passed each row, he met everyone’s empty stares, or full avoidance, with bright eyes and a jaunty smile. ‘Geez, the conviction on this guy,’ I thought to myself. It wasn’t long before that ball of conviction filled the empty seat, closest to the aisle, directly in front of me.

In the window seat sat what appeared to be a younger gentleman: he had a high-color skin tone that housed a whiskey mustache and a scraggly brown beard, he wore an olive green Kangol hat, paired with a black shirt, blue jeans and brown chelsea boots. Aside from his pointed mustache, what stood out the most was the colorful tattoos he had on both arms, stopping just above his wrist. His face carried a sense of chutzpah, as he scrolled endlessly through his phone. 

The tattooed gentleman was immediately greeted by this new stranger, “Hey, how’s it goin’ man?”

“It’s going pretty well,” he responded, as I hit pause on “Abbey Road” to listen more intently. “I’m looking forward to when my bed and I can reunite again, you know what I mean?”

The Jesus-like figure’s smile widened, “In what city would that be?” 

“Grand Rapids. By the way, my name is Nathan.”

“Nice to meet you Nathan, my name is Jeff.” They shook hands and continued on with their conversation. “Where is home for you, Jeff?” 

“Flint, but I’m going to Kalamazoo to hang out with dear friends of mine.”

“That’s cool,” Nathan responded while nodding his head. “What is there to do in Kalamazoo? I don’t think I’ve ever been.”

“Well, our plan is to do some hiking at, uh, Al Sabo Preserve. We’ve done some hiking there before, but, like, the park is so humungous there’s still many parts of it we’ve yet to travel, you know? If you’re lucky, you could get lost in it if you don’t have a map or compass escorting you,” Jeff said as the excitement poured out of him. 

“That sounds like something I need to add to my bucket list,” Nathan said. “My friends and I have done a lot of hiking. We hiked Yellowstone National Park a couple of months ago, right before the disaster hit it, maybe, a week or so later. We were lucky.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” Jeff said. “You know, God has a way of guiding you when you don’t know you’re being guided.”

“I guess,” Nathan responded blankly.

“Are you not religious, Nathan?”

“Quite the opposite actually, I’m an atheist.”

Nathan’s response sucked all of the air out of the conversation. Jeff’s unrelenting boyish smile withered into the past and a novel look of antipathy shined on his face. 

“Well, Nathan, how do you explain all of the beauty that exists around us?”

“What beauty?”

“The trees, the ocean, nature, the cosmos, you and me? I mean, this all came from somewhere, right?”

“Indeed it did,” Nathan replied. “It was called the Big Bang.”

Jeff closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. I could only sit there and wonder what emotions were coursing through him. ‘Am I about to witness a viral moment?’ I thought to myself. After a few moments of silence, Jeff gained his composure and carried on with his rebuttal.

“Uh, okay, so what about the written accounts of Jesus? How would you go about making sense of it?”

“Well, they’re man-made,” Nathan said flatly. “It’s not like any of these religious books were gifted to us from the clouds. All of these books were written by human beings.”

Jeff took a deep sigh and said, “Okay Nathan, well, how do you suppose humans are supposed to live their lives without any direction or guidance?”

“I can’t speak much for others, but I can tell you how I choose to live my life,” Nathan said. “I wake up each day and simply try to be a good person. I don’t feel like I need a book or a preacher telling me what I should be doing on a daily basis.”

“I can agree with being a good person on a daily basis, as I strive for the same thing,” Jeff replied. “I do think having a book or someone there to keep you on the right path is a useful tool to kind of have, though.”

“Well, to each its own,” Nathan responded, sneeringly. 

“How do you begin to define what a ‘good person’ is without having some sort of book or pastor there to tell you?” Jeff responded.

“From my observations of the world, it seems to be a natural thing amongst humans,” Nathan said. “We all have an idea of right and wrong or what it means to be a good person or a shitty person. Where that source of knowledge comes from, who knows. You might get it from a TV screen nowadays, or, you might get it from a book. It’s a matter of what you pick up on.

“How I would define a ‘good person’ is someone who’s charitable, amiable, helping and simply not a douche to any and everyone he meets,” Nathan said. 

“Alright, well, while I can’t agree with your beliefs, Nathan, I can come to terms with that we both have an idea of what benevolence looks like in this world,” Jeff stated earnestly. “We still have a long way to travel on this bus so how about we agree to disagree, and hope that maybe one day you become a believer?”

“I agree with agreeing to disagree,” Nathan said. “And how about we hope you find the truth?”

I leaned back in my chair, started “Abbey Road” from the top, and gazed out at the sea of trees and darkening skies, wondering, what is the truth?