Her name is Mary and she is my welcome home committee when I return from my travels. I remember the first time I met her, climbing into the airport shuttle after leaving my car in East Economy. I waited at the curb and she pulled up, swung open the door, and welcomed me with her bright smile.
“I’ll get that for you.”
She reached down and firmly took my suitcase from me, placing it in the holding rack. Yes, that was the first time I met Mary and I’ve been meeting her ever since.
Society says we shouldn’t talk to strangers and does everything it can to promote a distrust of those we don’t know. Children are raised to avert their eyes from others, unless they are acquainted with them. But not Mary. Mary talks to strangers and sees her job as shuttle driver as a way to visit with people. She does not know that her work in the world is important, that people need to be welcomed. She has no agenda.
For almost six years now, Mary’s been welcoming me, a friendly face when I return from places where there are lots of strangers. We are different and we are alike. She is in her seventies, African-American, raised in Texas. I am me – a fair skinned, Italian/Norwegian, grandchild of immigrants, raised in upstate New York. Mary has no family here in the heat of Phoenix. She lives alone but she likes to go on cruises and tell me about her latest trip in our short rides around East Economy parking. I have children and grandchildren and am often surrounded by family, but I like cruises too and we meet at that point.
I rarely talk about my work trips to Mary, answering only where I’m returning from. I like to listen to her. Last time I climbed aboard Mary’s chariot, she had both good and bad news for me. She had just returned from visiting her dying brother. He had had a long battle with cancer. Mary was philosophical about it. He had been sick for a long time and though she hated to say goodbye, she also hated his suffering. She had said her goodbyes and returned to Phoenix. This is how Mary sees life – one must do what must be done.
She came home and was now waiting to see if she would receive the loan she needs to buy a small home in Sun City. I hope she does. Mary’s a worker. She asks for nothing and smiles at the hardships of life. She greets everyone with a smile and offers friendly conversation to all. When she moves to her new home, she’ll cut back on her work days. Selfishly, I hope she won’t cut back too much. It will be lonely to climb on board and see a different face.
Sometimes I miss Mary’s shift and a man with a memorized talk tells me about the airport. I know about the airport and I turn my mind off and sit with a frozen look on my face while my mind goes to other places. I can’t wait to get to my stop, then. All I can think is that he’s not Mary and now I have a long drive home without the pleasure of our short visit. Mary always makes the drive better.
We need more Marys in this world – more people to greet us with a smile and ask how our trip went, to make us realize the world is not always frightening and that an airport shuttle can be a place of comfort. In the busyness of life, we tend to overlook the importance of lifting one’s face from our phones and smiling at others. We need more Marys to show us it’s important to talk to strangers.