For as long as I can remember, the bus has been a part of my life. At certain times, it has loomed large, like when I was eight years old, riding across town by myself and feeling like someone who could be trusted with responsibility.
Or when I was 21 and couldn’t afford a reliable car but needed to get to work and school and wherever else I was going back then.
Now, I am 47. I have been living without a car for 16 years. The bus is still a big part of my life, but it doesn’t have the same surface importance. It is always there, facilitating my life—cherished, but not so much in the forefront of my awareness as a Really Great Transportation Option. My appreciation has moved to a deeper place.
I have always know that buses connect us by providing opportunities to share space, experiences, and conversation. I am just beginning to learn that riding the bus, if you are open and humble enough to accept the lessons it offers, can be a spiritual practice. This is true whether you love the bus or hate it. Maybe especially if you hate it.
Here are some of the spiritual lessons I have learned from my longtime love.
More often than I would like, I have to wait a long time for my bus. Sometimes this happens when I am in a hurry, or managing children (though mine don’t need much bus-stop management these days), or exhausted. Sometimes, it happens when it is raining, and there is no shelter at the stop. Sometimes (oftentimes), it happens when I am feeling impatient: wanting to be in motion, in progress, on the way already.
Occasionally, in those moments, when I feel the urge to pace, or check my phone, or pull out my book or to-do list to “kill time,” I decide instead to surrender. Surrender to being “bored,” to getting wet, to maybe even being late, and just accept the moment for what it is.
Surrendering can mean engaging in an interesting or deep or silly conversation with my kids or spouse. It can mean taking a breath and paying attention to my surroundings. Or it can mean squeezing everyone under one tiny umbrella and resigning myself to wet socks.
We don’t control when the bus comes, and we don’t control the conditions under which we are forced to wait. We do control what we do with the moments we spend at the stop.
About five years ago, I had to attend an evening political meeting for work. By the time the meeting was over, it was close to 9 p.m., and I was in a hurry to get home. Back then, I didn’t have a smart phone, so I headed straight for the bus stop—which was several blocks away and in an isolated area—without checking a schedule.
I was a block and a half (plus a street crossing) from the stop when the bus pulled up. I knew that even if I ran as hard as a could, there was no way I was going to catch it. But I was so desperate to get home, so motivated to NOT have to stand at that deserted, dark stop for 30+ minutes until the next bus arrived, I decided to run for it anyway.
It was not a pretty run. I didn’t have on the best shoes. My bag and papers and meeting clothes (and, ahem, body parts) were flapping and bouncing all over the place as I stumbled along at my highest speed, fully expecting the bus to pull away before I even came close.
The bus stayed put.
I kept running. The bus kept staying.
By the time I made it to the stop, out of breath and disheveled, the bus was still there. I didn’t then and don’t now have any idea why.
The thing is, it really doesn’t matter.
When you run for the bus, you don’t know what might happen. Maybe (probably) you won’t make it. But maybe there’s a wheelchair that needs to be buckled in. Maybe someone will ask the driver for directions. Maybe a passenger will see you and ask the driver to wait. Maybe the stop is a time point, and the bus is a minute early.
You don’t have to worry about any of that. The only thing you have to do is run as hard as you can until the bus drives away.
Or, until you catch it.
I have the type of brain that likes to judge, label, and categorize. I’m an observant person, so I tend to notice patterns. My guilty pleasure is to sit with my spouse and categorize and label all the different people we encounter—on the bus and otherwise.
But every time I get curious and try to see the person behind whatever label I’ve attached, I learn. The more I practice this, the better I get at it, and the more often I remember:
We all love. We all suffer. Most of us are doing the best we can.
Judgments and assumptions isolate us from the people we encounter every day. Curiosity brings a richness to our interactions. It shines a light on others’ humanity. And it strengthens our own.
Don’t take it personally.
I often say that the best thing about the bus is being surrounded by other people. And, the worst thing about the bus is being surrounded by other people.
Sharing a ride with the people you share the world with can ground you in your community, help you feel less alone, and deepen your empathy.
It can also be annoying as hell.
Over the years, I have (semi-)regularly been cut in line, pushed aside, propositioned, called names, and interrogated about my ethnic identity. And don’t get me started on the bus fouls I’ve witnessed!
What I’ve slowly come to learn is that strangers’ behavior towards me is not about me. (How could it be? They don’t even know me.) Their rudeness is about their own issues and whatever they are going through in the moment.
I can set boundaries (a la Chicklet, who is a pro) or respectfully ask for what I need (for example, a seat, if someone has their bag on one), without taking the behavior personally or letting it affect my own mood.
Take it personally.
Just because a person’s bad behavior is a reflection of their own issues doesn’t mean that we can (or should) accept it. If someone is being harassed, and you are in a position to help, you should help.
Look for the beauty.
Everyone who’s ever been on a bus knows that it isn’t always pretty. But I know that it is always beautiful.
By way of explanation, I offer this.
Unless, of course, that would be a bad idea.