It was spring 1982 and I was a graduate student at what was then called Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C. I was in my second semester and had become comfortable in this busy and diverse city. Public transportation was my way of getting from the apartment in Northwest to the college in Northeast and even to the bookstore in Dupont Circle, where I part-timed to make ends meet.

One day, I boarded a city bus, put my coins into the machine, said hello to the driver and sat down. I’m an upfront rider. Second row, aisle seat – good. I slung my book bag from my shoulder onto my lap and gazed around to see the other riders. About two-thirds through my sweep, an awareness started in my consciousness, and by the time I was back to the front of the bus, it had dawned on me.

I was the only white person on the bus full of people.

A feeling zipped through me of learned fear, but then just as quickly the reality that I was safe, and then excitement that I was in a unique opportunity for this white woman from New England.

Wanting to be sure, I took another scan. As my eyes came back around, a man sitting opposite me was watching. When we locked upon on another, he had a full smile and sparkling eyes. Oh, he understood exactly what I was seeing and realizing.

He nodded, “How’s it feel?”

I didn’t have words for it. I smiled a tight-lipped smile at him and we both kept nodding. I took that as encouragement. I sat back in my seat and processed where I was and what I was experiencing. This was a first-time ever event.

I was the minority.

Most people just ignored me. A woman or two huffed as they went by me after boarding during the next stop. Streaks of alone-ness shot through me. And I just sat with who and where I was. I breathed it in, wanting to remember this.

I spent the next few stops hoping no other white people would get on, so I could linger in this moment. It was humbling. It was exciting. I was thrilled.

When my stop came, I stood and addressed the man with the knowing smile. “Thank you,” I said. “This was life-enhancing. I just grew a whole lot.”

I think I smiled all the way up Connecticut Avenue to the apartment. I can bring those feelings back in a flash when I remember that afternoon. It made me “see” better.