Tag Archives: hope

Spiritual lessons I learned on the bus

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.

Or when I was 31 and decided to give up the car I could finally comfortably afford to become a born-again bus rider.

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.

Practice surrender.
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.

Practice hope.
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.

Be curious.
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 these recent tweets.

Finally—and always:

Breathe.

Unless, of course, that would be a bad idea.

Onward

Every Wednesday, I volunteer at my kids’ school. I spend most of my time there in the cafeteria, because — thanks to our state’s chronic (and criminal) funding challenges — our food service manager doesn’t have the resources she needs to do her job well.

I never look forward to my volunteer days — there are always 100 other things I should (or would rather) be doing — but I usually enjoy them. This is because my kids’ school is awesome. The student body is extremely diverse, and each classroom reflects that diversity* (a rarity in this proudly progressive city). The staff is also diverse, and is one of the most committed and conscientious groups of people I have ever had the privilege to know. Despite innumerable challenges — inadequate funding, oppressive (and often incompetent) district bureaucracy, too many tests — they do everything in their power to build a supportive community and provide a well-rounded, enriching education to all of our kids.

But back to Wednesdays.

On Wednesday, November 9th, the first day of the New Reality, I really did not feel up for volunteering. I forced myself — and my kids — through the motions of getting ready for the day, but as the three of us walked to school, I was overwhelmed with despair. It was a heaviness I had never felt before, even in my worst moments of grief.

When we arrived, the blacktop was filled with kids laughing and running and playing. Some were huddled in small groups, discussing the results of the election, but most were simply enjoying their last moments of morning recess, as they do every morning. The bell rang, and they lined up by classroom. Teachers walked out of the building to greet them, many wearing our school’s Black Lives Matter t-shirts. Then everyone headed inside for another day of learning.

I made my way to the kitchen, where our wonderful cafeteria manager was hard at work unloading the “keeper” with the next day’s meals. I washed my hands, donned an apron, and began rinsing and chopping the daily fresh produce snack.** When I finished, it was time for first lunch.

I spent the next few hours serving meals to hundreds of precious children of all colors, faiths, backgrounds, and abilities; hugging teachers who give so much to help those children learn; and watching our beautiful, imperfect community make it through the challenge of another delightful, chaotic, too-short lunch period.

The heaviness started to lift.

After lunch, while I wiped tables and listened to the music class practice songs on the cafeteria stage,*** I realized that we are all still here, doing the work we have always done. We can still connect, and serve, and build. We can still take care of each other. We can still love.

This is not some cop-out platitude post to suggest that we can fix the problems in our country by “being nice” — or to encourage folks to forget about politics in favor of more pleasant subjects. On the contrary, “politics” will have a tremendous impact on the children I serve every Wednesday; indeed, it already has.

Now, more than ever, we have an obligation to vocally and actively and with all the resources at our disposal, advocate for a just and sustainable country and world. But to do that, we must start where we are. And we must remember who we are. I am honored to be part of a community that does both.

Every member of the staff signed this.

Every member of the staff signed this letter.

school sign

***

* This is a relatively recent development. A couple of years ago, the school community made the decision to move from two programs to one. It was a bold and courageous move (one that I will probably talk about in a future post). We still have plenty of challenges, but it has made all the difference.
** This exists at our school only because a parent who is very passionate about nutrition identified the program and raised the money to pay for it.
*** Our (part-time) music teacher does not have a classroom.