Yesterday I sat on a bench at the bus stop, on my way to yoga. Another woman sat on the other end of the bench, with a space between us. An older man with a suitcase walked up and stared at the space, as if he wanted to sit down. I had my headphones on and was listening to an audiobook, so gestured for him to sit down and scooted over to make more room for him. He sat and started to chit-chat. I took out one earbud and he asked where I was from, then, “Are you from Singapore?” I said I was from Washington, DC originally and he slurred, “you never met the president!” I agreed, I had not, and he started rambling about how he had. By now I noticed alcohol on his breath and I became anxious to get back to my book. “I’m listening to a book,” I said, gesturing to my earbuds and smiling. “I’m going to go back to my book now.” I did just that—and that’s when he started to rage. “You bitch! You think you’re better than everyone here? Blah blah blah…” I turned up the volume. As his rant proceeded, I got up and walked away from the bench, standing near the curb, looking down the street for a bus that seemed it’d never come. Five other people stood around, trying to ignore us. He got up walked toward me, now yelling obscenities. I took one earbud out said said, “look, dude… I tried to be nice to you but if you don’t leave me alone, I’m calling the police!” He laughed and said to go ahead, that he didn’t have any warrants, blah blah blah. By now I couldn’t hear my audiobook and I was Googling the police department’s non-emergency number. As my call connected , the man got in my face and yelled into the phone, “she called me a nigger!” as the operator said hello. I walked away and explained to the operator that there was a man harassing me at a bus stop. After giving the location, my phone number, and his description, I got off the phone. Another woman walked over to me to ask what time the bus was coming. I don’t know if she was trying to offer a buffer or genuinely had a question, but I answered her, then the man ranted toward her, and a few minutes later the bus came.

We all got on. My plan was to sit near the driver but there were no seats available there, and the harasser and his suitcase sat nearby. I went straight to the back and sat with a bunch of teenage boys. The ride was pleasant, until the harasser’s stop came and as he departed through the back doors, he yelled something toward me. (I was back to my book but my fellow passengers all looked astounded).

I made it to yoga. My breathing was shallow throughout the opening meditation as I mentally replayed what had just happened, wondering what I could have done differently. I kept thinking about the fact that this was not the first time I’ve been harassed on public transportation and it probably wouldn’t be the last. I see it happen to other women all the time—guys trying to crack jokes or commenting on their bodies. And why should we have to talk to anyone we don’t feel like talking to? If I had employed the tactics of the hollaback movement and taken this guy’s picture or filmed him, I bet he would have hit me. I was seething about the discomfort and fear this causes on an every day basis and I wondered why I even left the house on this day. I wished I rode my bike instead. I worried about all the women and girls on public transportation everywhere in the entire world. But then, things like this don’t just happen to women and not just on public transportation. We live in a country of wealth and poverty—the so-called “haves and have-nots,” which makes for a lot of uncomfortable situations.

Over Christmas, a friend was visiting from New York. We took him to our favorite local taco place, and when we all sat down to eat, a homeless man wandered in and hovered over our table, mumbling something through his few teeth. Our friend humored him for a second and then said “bro, you’re kind of in my space.” The guy stayed standing there. We ignored him until a big drop of drool fell from his mouth to the side of our visitor’s plate. The friend stood up angrily and told him to leave. The restaurant owner rushed over and ushered the man outside, asking her husband to call the police. The man knew her name and from what I know of her, I assume she has fed him before. He stared through the window at us until the police arrived and took him away. None of us felt much like eating anymore. A week later this friend told us he called our precinct on Christmas Eve to see if the guy was still there. He asked the front desk what his needs might be, then hand-delivered slippers, a robe, soap, toothpaste and other necessities to the man that night. “I don’t ever want anyone to think that I think I’m better than they are,” were his words of explanation to us. I love him for this.

By the middle of my yoga class yesterday, I was focused on my own breath, beads of sweat forming from my slow and controlled movements. At the end of class, in the closing meditation, the teacher urged us to use the benefits of the practice to bless others in the world. As always, we closed with “Namaste,” meaning “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” The divine part of us can bow to one another but the human parts often get ugly. I conjured compassion the best I could, thinking about the fact that this guy was most likely mentally ill. He is homeless and I was homeless once in my late teens, so I do empathize. I understand that I get to go to a nice yoga class and then back to my nice house and rewarding career and I am not drunk at 8 am on a Wednesday. After posting about the event on Facebook and asking, “how do other women deal with stuff like this?” two friends—one male, one female—called me just to check in and make sure I was okay. I am grateful for all of this. None of this excuses his behavior toward me, either.  I don’t want to be yelled at or degraded while going about my life and at times, I must protect myself. I also want to operate with love rather than fear.

“Use the benefits of the practice to bless others in the world.”

I’m still working on it.