The Atlanta Greyhound station was chaos. It was a rainy Monday. Buses were late. Some were cancelled (which happens frequently because drivers simply don’t show up for work). And, because there are no digital status boards or signs, nobody knows when their bus may be leaving, or arriving.
While I wasn’t happy with the situation, I’ve become used to life in chaotic terminals, so I put my noise-reducing headphones on and tried to listen to a book through the noise that wasn’t being reduced. Directly across from me was an African American family, a mom, son and, what I assumed to be, a grandmother. They were noteworthy only because they’d been sitting and waiting for as long as I’d been in the terminal.
Somehow, through the chaos, I started to drift asleep. I awoke to a frightening scream. There was a commotion, but I couldn’t see what was happening because of the line of people standing in front of me, waiting to board a bus. As the line broke, I could see that the commotion was coming from the family across from me. A young man, in his 20’s I guessed, was hovering over the younger woman, the one I assumed was the mother. She was crying hysterically, almost inconsolable. She couldn’t catch her breath and, for a moment, I thought she might have a heart attack. The only words I could hear her saying were “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord.”
When things calmed, I approached them, told the about the Journey and asked about what I had just witnessed. The mother, whose name I learned was Debra, was out of breath, unable to construct a coherent sentence. So, I turned to the younger man.
He introduced himself as Anthony. He was Debra’s 29 year-old son. Anthony had just been released from Georgia State Prison the previous day. He’d been convicted of armed robbery when he was 19. Debra has only seen him once in 10 years, unable to afford the time off of work to visit her son in prison, at the other end of the state.
Having confirmed his release date, Anthony arranged with his Aunt Sydney, the older of the two women, to invite Debra and his younger brother, Keshon, to Atlanta for the weekend. Upon his release, the Georgia Department of Corrections gave Anthony a $100 check and a one-way ticket home to Forrest Park, Georgia. His bus made one stop, in Atlanta. There he would transfer to the bus headed for Forrest Park. But only after a reunion with his mother.
Their bus was called and the family rose to get into the boarding line. I never did get a chance to talk to Debra because she was so overcome with emotion. But I guess I didn’t need to. What could she say that I hadn’t already witnessed. As they moved toward the gate, she gripped Anthony’s arm, with both hands, not wanting to let go of her son, to risk losing him again. And, all the while, her lips moved gently, simply repeating: “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord.”