Invitation to trust

I boarded the tour bus with a heavy heart. My goal was to find some release from an experience that had broken my trust in people. But in the first few days of my trip, I had not been able to shake the wretched memory or the question that rode like a bird on my shoulder:

''When trust has been broken, how do we learn to trust again?''

It had happened on a very ordinary day. I had waved to my family as I left for the office. The phone call came in the mid-morning. My home had been broken into and one of the children seriously hurt. The intruder was not a stranger, bad as that might be, but someone whose family we knew.

Suddenly I became a locker of doors. I jumped whenever the phone on my desk rang. I wanted to know where everyone was at all times. I withdrew from people, my easy friendliness submerged. I, who had prided myself all my life on my fearlessness, had become the victim of fear.

My child and the others in the family soon mended and I could see I must, too , but I had become obsessed by the nature of betrayal. I forced myself to take this trip -- anything to help me forget and to restore, if possible, my confidence in life.

But it wasn't working. As the tourists became acquainted, a happy layer of voices and laughter rose above the hum of the bus tires -- but I could hear only the gush of water from the kitchen faucet when I had entered the house after that phone call. My child had been doing dishes when she felt the weapon at her throat. Inside, I now wept again for my child, remembering.

On the third day of my trip, I decided I must either find an answer to my grief and continue the tour in peace, or cancel it and go home. I would try, I promised. I would really try.

The person sitting beside me that day was a plain, stolid-looking woman. She wore a cotton dress of the kind my mother called a ''housedress.'' Her wide face shone, untouched by makeup, and her gray-brown hair hung in soft crinkles of no particular fashion. She sat straight, her hands folded in her lap, the image of dignity and serenity. But as far as I could see she had little for me or I for her.

Then I scolded myself for not acting on my own resolution. I turned to my seatmate and forced myself to remark on the weather, on the view of the mountains we were approaching. I asked if this were her first trip to this part of the country.

''Oh, no,'' she said. ''I live in that little town where the bus tour starts. I come often. I bring friends. I'm here today with friends. They're visiting from Denver. Ever been to Denver?''

We chatted about places we'd been, she to many more than I, even to Spain. When we came to a scenic turnout, the bus driver announced a camera stop. I pulled my camera bag from under the seat. My arms were loaded with the bag, my purse, and a bulky notebook.

''I'll watch your notebook,'' my seatmate said. She had seen me scribbling in it. ''Just put it down on your seat. Your purse, too. I'll watch your purse.''

Leave my purse? Didn't she know people steal purses? They steal into houses? A purse isn't safe. A person isn't safe. Didn't she - ?

She saw my dismay. ''Leave it,'' she said, speaking in a firm, quiet voice. ''I'm no pickpocket.''

Then she turned away, apparently hurt by my suspicion. I was terribly confused. Could I do as she asked? Did I dare? Could I risk being disillusioned again? I looked at her strong, proud face. It begged for trust.

I slid my purse down my arm and dropped it on the seat. I left the bus quickly and returned quickly. I was still doubtful until I checked my purse at the first rest stop and saw my wallet was still there, everything untouched. Then I felt ashamed.

During the rest of the day, I learned my seatmate's name was Elsie. She was a retired cook, a widow who had raised three children alone. Once she even owned a restaurant.

''I live alone now,'' she said, ''but I have a lot of friends and a good life.''

She told me how she had fixed up her house.

''Next time you come here, you stay with me,'' Elsie said. ''I have a spare bedroom and I'd be happy to have you stay.''

She insisted I write down her address and phone number.

''I mean it now,'' she said. ''I won't charge you none. No use staying at a motel when I have a spare bedroom.''

I was dazed. She hadn't even asked my name. She hadn't asked anything about me. I was a stranger on a tour bus. I came from heaven knows where. Still -- she trusted me, welcomed me, would open her home to me.

I realized it was this very trust in people which gave her ''a lot of friends and a good life.'' And me? I was treating everyone I met as an enemy because of what one person had done. To be wise -- yes. To distrust everyone?

I haven't gone back to Elsie's part of the country, though I would like to see her again; would like to stay in the spare bedroom of her home. I owe her so much.

For one thing, I owe her the rest of that vacation. I enjoyed each day a little more than the one before. By the time it was over, I was ready to go home and be myself again. I owe that to Elsie, too.

She did, you see, answer my question.

You learn to trust again by doing it.

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