After approximately three weeks of transit, I’ve realized that my first lesson of the day always comes before I arrive on campus. One can learn a lot from taking the bus each morning with the same people. More than in any philosophy or psychology class, I’d like to guess.
I’m a theatre major who happens to write on the side so it isn’t surprising that I am also a constant people watcher. I always have been. When I was in choir as a young child, I barely sang because I was too busy watching everyone else. One of the older girls was quite concerned and told my mom about it. My mom said it was just my age that made me so inquisitive. Little did they know, that I’d only grow in the habit more. Perhaps I don’t stare as much as I did at six, but I’m always watching, thinking, and wondering.
On the first day of classes, I analyzed automatically. There was a young, blonde boy with headphones in his ears and a guitar case at his side. Two girls wearing shorts and heavy lip gloss sat together, chatting about the new school year. A young woman read her Bible and the man behind her played on his phone.
As the bus went on, we picked up more and more people. Three, loud teenage girls got on the bus, talking about school and schedules.
“I hope they give us schedules because I forget mine,” one girl said.
“You might have to go to Mr. _____ office to get it,” her friend snickered.
“Ugh, I hope not!”
A woman with dark hair, dressed smartly got on, smiled at the bus driver, put her ticket in, and found a seat. Another girl got on the bus, moving rather quickly passed the loud ones.
People were talking, and the bus was nosiy. I wondered how the young woman could still read her Bible in all of this clatter.
Then, the almost full bus stopped for a young man and a girl.
“Do you have room for us?” She was short, with glasses, a high blonde pony tail, and a school backpack. Her voice was a bit nasally, but sweet.
The bus driver replied affirmatively and the two got on.
“Can I sit here?” the girl asked the boy wearing the headphones.
“Sure,” he replied, barely looking up.
“Do you know where I’m going?” she asked innocently.
He had to take his headphones out and ask her what she said again. The girl repeated it.
“No, I don’t know.”
She said the name of one of the local colleges and he replied with something like “cool” and tried to go back to his music.
But the girl kept talking. She talked about it being her first day of college and how she was strong to go and that she hoped she wasn’t late and about roller coasters and her pet dog. She was different than the others on the bus. Perhaps not the kind of girl the boy wanted to beside on the bus. But she was sweet, innocent, and so very human like us all. And as she talked, I noticed a constant theme. She wanted affirmation, encouragement. “Am I right?” she would ask again and again. The boy would say, “Probably,” but she wanted to know for sure that she was right. And as the bus bumped along and picked up more people and stopped at stops, I thought, “Isn’t that what we all want? To know that we are right?”
The loud, teenage girls kept talking.
“I’ll be easy on the grade eights the first day, but after Christmas you’re kinda _____.”
“Yeah,” her friend agreed.
I wanted to say, “What are you? Grade 9?” But I didn’t. They just wanted to be right, like all of us do.
The girl with the blonde pony tale kept talking in front of me. The boy had now removed his headphones and was listening half attentively.
“Hey,” the two were interrupted by another boy who got on the bus with a raised eye brow and snickering face.
“Hi,” the boy with the headphones replied. Although he was in front of me, I could tell he was worried now about being the “right kind of cool, teenage boy.”
The loud girls and the shy one got off. They thanked the bus driver politely, but as they walked to their high school doors, I saw them snub the shy girl. Perhaps she was a grade 8. Or maybe just another grade 9 who they didn’t like. Regardless, they had to be right.
Meanwhile, the blonde pony tale girl kept talking and talking and talking. The friend of the boy with the headphones snickered. The girl kept talking and the headphone boy listened. But he looked back at his friend with a quizzical face as if to say, “This isn’t what you think.” He wanted to be right.
Eventually, head phones boy and his other school friends got off and the girl was left alone.
“Hi, how are you?” she asked the woman with dark hair and smart business clothes. But she didn’t answer. The woman wanted to be right. The girl repeated her question. Still no answer.
But what about me? I was sitting behind her. What was right for me? Was it to snub the girl like everyone else and look perfect and fine to the others on the bus. Or is being right love and compassion? What would Jesus do? He would answer the girl in love.
And so I replied, “I’m good, how are you?”
The girl turned to face me and answered back. She asked me all sorts of questions like the ones she’d asked the boy with the headphones. We talked until my stop came. And I left feeling that I was right for that bus ride.