Friday, September 19, 2014

Another Everyday Miracle

On the way home from a matinee movie an hour or so ago, I was forced to stop behind and to the left of a school bus. The lights were flashing and the little stop sign was engaged, so I eased to a halt and watched the proceedings as best I could considering the fact that I was on the outside and backside of the bus.

Parents and siblings waited patiently as the small feet of their elementary loved ones descended from the bottom step of the bus onto the curb. Asian people. Latino people. White people. African American people. Standing several yards away was a Muslim woman, identifiable by her hijab. As the children began to disperse towards their family members, she began to slowly approach first the rear and gradually the front of the bus. She disappeared from my sight for a few seconds, but I saw a pair of pants and sneakers approach her covered feet. Then she came back into my line of sight, her face lit from within by the love she felt for her beautiful, young daughter. She took and put on her daughter's backpack, wrapped her arms around her precious offspring, kissed her thick brown hair, and they began to walk towards home (I presume) with their arms wrapped around one another.

I imagined that woman at home all day, cleaning and cooking, thinking of her daughter, saying her daily prayers. I imagined her making her way from her home to the bus stop, standing off on her own every afternoon, waiting for her child to be returned to her. I imagined her preparing her beloved's favorite snack and putting out two small dishes, two glasses, and silverware in anticipation of their time together at the table. I imagined her excitement over the fact that for the next two mornings, she will not have to rouse her sleepy child, get her dressed, and walk her to the bus stop - she has two whole days with her child by her side.

The truth is that the little girl might be a beast, yelling and screaming and throwing tantrums whenever she doesn't have her chocolate chip cookies baked just right. Or perhaps she has nightmares and her mother and father spend hours awake every night, dreading the terrors yet to come. I have no idea - but I want to believe the former rather than the latter. I know it's just my imagination, but there it is.

In any case, as I sat there watching the several reunions of parents, grandparents, and other caregivers with their children, I witnessed another everyday miracle. The miracle of school and school buses. The miracle of trust in the school system, the teachers, the administrators, and bus drivers. The miracle that another day and another week ended without an accident en route or a madman entering the school with high powered weapons or a fire or a tornado or any other of countless tragedies that are possible. Those parents sent their most prized possessions on a bus driven by a stranger to a place staffed by strangers with the hope and prayer that all would go well and that their little ones would emerge from that bus in good health and with some new idea or discovery implanted in their young minds.

When I think back to my school days, I remember my ecstatic joy at getting onto and off the school bus every morning. I loved going to school - not as much as going to church, but school was a close second. I enjoyed talking to the bus driver. My father was a public bus driver when I was child, so I couldn't ignore the driver the way most of the other kids did. I knew that bus drivers were fathers and husbands and brothers and sons (I never had a female bus driver), and they had stories to tell just like my father did. I was intrigued by the process of driving, especially how they used the stick shift, and I loved being able to open the door at the bus stops for my friends to get on. I loved school - but who can be surprised by that? I'm still as big a geek as I ever was back then. And my fascination with riding the bus didn't end until I graduated from high school. Whether I rode the bus provided by the private school I attended or the public bus, the drivers always caught my attention. And the people watching was spectacular, whether I knew them or not.

When I was in second or third grade, my mother served as the bus monitor on our school bus. I don't remember if she rode the bus with us to school every morning, but I do remember her being on the bus on our way back home. Every Friday, she would give a prize - a candy bar or bag of jelly beans or something else small like that - to the child she deemed had been the best behaved that week. I remember that I finally won that little prize on the last or second to last week of school that year. I'm sure she didn't want anyone to think she favored me because I was her daughter. All I remember thinking was, "I have to be good on the bus every single day of the entire year - and I get nothing to show for it for the first eight months of this nine month school year. It's not fair."

Even though I couldn't have articulated it very well back then, somehow I knew it was all a miracle - that not everyone got to attend a magnet school in Brooklyn, New York, be taught to read and write and appreciate music by passionate, hard-working young teachers, play the violin in the school orchestra, be chosen to attend a biweekly music program in Manhattan, go to hear the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, learn braille while volunteering with several blind students at school, participate in school and district-wide spelling bees, and ride the school bus to and from the Daniel Hale Williams school from kindergarten until the end of sixth grade - except on the days that I chose to ride the public bus with my free bus pass. And don't get me started with describing the process by which I was chosen to attend, then welcomed into, then emerged from Poly Prep, a private school that went co-ed the year I entered as a seventh grader. I wrote about some of  my school bus adventures not long ago.

Somehow I knew it was all a miracle. Every single day at school, sometimes bullied, sometimes insulted, sometimes threatened, sometimes embarrassed, always seen, always heard, always engaged, always astonished, I knew I was living a miracle, blessed indeed. I knew it even as a child.

Now, as an adult, I am still struck by the miracle of school buses. A couple of years ago, when I used to take my son to his tennis lessons, I would often park the car in the parking lot there and go for walks while he played. I would emerge from the neighborhood where the courts were located and walk alongside a rather busy street for a mile or so before turning around and heading back. On that route, I would pass the public high school that my children would have attended if they hadn't been homeschooled. Often I would arrive at that intersection as the school day ended. Hundreds of teenagers would approach me, walking home. In groups. Alone. Chatting. Listening to music. Backpacks hanging low. Glad to be set free, I'm sure.

What caught my eye even more than the students whose lack of attention forced me to almost have to step down into the street to avoid bumping into them was the long line of school buses that emerged from the school parking lot. Police officers would stop traffic, both automobile and pedestrian, so that the buses could begin their appointed rounds through our South Charlotte neighborhood. I would stand and look up into the windows of the buses, catching brief glimpses of the students as they sat or kneeled on the seats. Some of them stared out the windows, but most seemed to be engaged with other kids on the bus.

I tried not to imagine the horrors and the hunger, the anger and the abuse that some of them faced when they got home. I tried not to imagine the addictions and violence, the desperation and despair that plagued so many of them. I hated to imagine how some of them suffered at the hands of their classmates, of bullies in the hallways, the cafeteria and the locker room, as well as the mean kids who sometimes rode the bus with them. So I would pray for them instead, for their education, for their protection, for their families, for their relationships, for their tender hearts and their growing minds - and I would give thanks on their behalf for those buses and for the drivers that had so courageously taken on the responsibility of driving them from place to place. Every time I watched those buses roll away into the afternoon, I prayed that the ordinary miracle of school and school buses would provide some safe haven for them, even if only for a little while.

For those folks who stood waiting for the appearance of those flashing lights at the corner of Ballantyne Commons Parkway and Ballantyne Trace Court today, another everyday, every week, ordinary miracle occured. I am enormously grateful I had the chance to witness it again this afternoon. I am grateful for the memories it brought to mind. I hope I never grow cold and dull to the wonder of it.

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