Tag Archive | love

Inspired by a Bus Driver

“Are you married?” Jesse inquires loudly. I have learned to expect the most random of questions, but this one always makes me smile. Jonathan taps my arm lightly, competing for my attention. He signs the word “funny”, raising his eyebrows to imply a question: Why are you laughing?

“Jesse asked if I’m married,” I explain, simultaneous signing and speaking so that neither the deaf nor the hearing clients feel excluded. “That’s funny because I’m only seventeen!” Jonathan nods in agreement, then catches Jesse’s attention. This time I do not translate what he is signing, knowing that I would only be spreading rumors. “No, no,” I sign at Jonathan. “I’m not divorced! I’ve never been married!” After a moment of silence, I steer the conversation in a safer direction, and soon the table is happily rambling about something else.

It’s been over a year since I graduated high school and stopped volunteering at JBC, a center for mentally disabled adults.  Sometimes I miss all the fun times I had there.  After all, playing War with these people was even more fun than my family’s hardcore games of Settlers of Catan.  And let’s be honest, I rocked at our JBC “game” of slamming the ping-pong ball to make it bounce against the ceiling.  I let the clients beat me at Connect Four, gave home-style manicures, and chatted with them about anything and everything.  I was there to serve them, but actually it was them who ended up teaching me a lot.  They reminded me to see the beauty in simple things, like the butterflies dancing in the shrubbery outside and the glittery snowflakes we cut out of paper. They were patient, always more than willing to slow down and teach me how to sign a new word. They were masters of unconditional love, and no matter how long I had been absent, never failed to great me with cheers of “Come sit with us!”  These people were among the most forgiving, understanding, and loving that I have ever met.  It’s kind of ironic that I learned such valuable lessons from such unexpected teachers.

It’s also kind of ironic that it was an equally unexpected teacher, a random bus driver, who reminded me why I was given my experiences at JBC.

This was late in the afternoon, several weeks ago.  It hadn’t been a particularly long or hard day – actually I had had fun grocery shopping with two of my friends.  But by this point in time, we had been sweating at the bus stop for almost an hour, we were totting a week’s worth of meals, and we were more than ready to get home and make dinner.  We awkwardly wrestled our groceries on board the bus, fished for the right number of quarters, and finally, gratefully, collapsed into our seats.

It was then that a man, speaking authoritatively, caught my attention.  “You can’t have that [the bin of groceries] out in the open like that.  You have to put it up there,” and he pointed to a storage area where that bin couldn’t possibly have fit.  Flustered, I glanced around for a sign – was it even ok to have such a big bin on board? – but didn’t see one telling me that I had to put my groceries anywhere in particular.  I looked towards the speaker, who was repeating his command, confused.

The man looked older than he probably was.  Forty-something, maybe fifty-something.  His teeth – the few that were left – pointed in every direction.  His clothes were not clean, his hair definitely not brushed.  His identification information hung around his neck.  In short, he was quite clearly not the authority on where I had to store my groceries.

I recognized that this man was mentally challenged and wanted to be kind, but I wasn’t really sure what to do.  I gave him a nervous smile and said that I would make sure to hold onto the bin tightly so that it wouldn’t slide around.  In response, he insisted that this wasn’t enough and that I had to move it out of the aisle.  But to where?  I smiled another nervous smile, hoping he’d let my “violation” slide.  I was just too tired for this right now.  Is it even my responsibility to inconvenience myself just to make him a little more comfortable?  Would it be horrible to…just ignore him?

This was where the bus-driver stepped in competently and confidently, speaking to the man.  “Hey there, General.  We have a problem because the girls’ bin won’t fit up there.  It’ll have to stay on the floor, but do you think you can watch it to make sure it doesn’t start sliding around?  If it does, just let me know.”

“Yes, sir!” the man responded, in a tone that made me wonder if once upon a time he had fought for our country.   He straightened his back and inched a little closer, his face serious and his eyes smiling.  He looked glad to have a responsibility.

Relaxing now that the situation was under control, I started to watch our bus driver, realizing that he was not only driving responsibly, but also chatting cheerfully with a few other handicapped passengers.  I knew he had probably had a long day already, and still hours of driving ahead.  He probably couldn’t wait to get out of this bus and stretch his legs.  And yet, he was beyond courteous to these people who needed much more of his attention than his “normal” passengers who rode in silence.  He had obviously taken the time to get to know them over other similar trips, because he knew how to keep them calm and satisfied now.  If they wanted to think that they were in charge of making sure people stored their belongings properly, he was happy to play along, and was clever enough to do so in a way that didn’t inconvenience his other passengers.

I was impressed and inspired by the way he interacted with these people.  Thinking back, I knew I had learned enough at JBC to have come up with a solution like he did.  Like him I knew the value in these people, like him I had at least basic experience talking with them, like him I had had plenty of opportunities to be patient and handle situations even when I was not in the mood.  But I hadn’t been prepared to use those skills in my “real world”.  Actually, I had never really thought that I would ever use them outside JBC.  Now I know that I will need to, and that next time there probably will not be such a gem of a bus driver nearby with the kindness, willingness, and ability to handle the situation; next time I should be ready with the kindness, willingness, and ability to handle it myself.

Sometimes we students fall into the trap of thinking that for now we just accumulate knowledge and that sometime in the distant future we will use all that knowledge to do good for the world.  How self-centered!  With that mindset, we will never get around to doing good.  What we learned yesterday, we should try to use today.  Life is not about waiting until you are thoroughly equipped to do a job perfectly.  Do your best now, with whatever you have, and whatever you know, and whoever you are.

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Freed from Grief

One year ago, I lost a close friend. Those months were really hard for me and I mostly just wanted to fly far, far away from everything and everyone until I had time to heal. Now, 365 days later, I wanted to share the testimony of my firsthand experience of God’s faithfulness and love. His plan is perfect even when it seems absolutely wrong.

~~I never wanted to go to an ivy league. Going to a school with such high demands on my academic and spiritual life seemed too risky. Although I would miss out on experiences because of my insistence on playing life safe, I was willing to sacrifice for control over my life.

Less than a year ago, I hoped to go to Grove City. Today I am thriving at Princeton, convinced that this is where I belong. What happened to so drastically change my mindset? What happened to so drastically change me?

During my senior year of high school, a lot happened that I had definitely not planned for. One of my close relationships was shattered. A friend was shot. Finally, one weekend, every perception of my ability to control my life was ripped away.

That year, soccer was a huge part of my life. I captained the team with my two best friends and embraced my role as a big sister to the younger players. As for Coach—he was so much more than my coach! He was that one special adult that I could talk to about anything. He was proud of who I was and gave good advice as often as I asked. Whether I was a mess over some little trauma in my life or just felt like a laugh, whether it was during his work hours or one, two, three o’clock in the morning, I could always count on Coach to be there for me. He beat me in Shakespeare quoting contests, bought me Belgian chocolate to beat me in a bet, and really just adopted me as an extra daughter. He was my extra dad.

One Saturday, minutes after our game started, Coach went down, clutching his side. From the distance to which some adult pushed me, I hugged my teammates and cried for Coach’s pain and for my own helplessness, but it never crossed my mind that I was watching him die. I don’t care to remember the details; I just remember everything happening so slowly. The long wait for the ambulance. The long wait at the hospital. Then my world shattered, erupting in tears from deep inside me.

I had never cried like that before. Over the next weeks, I became numb in my feelings of loss and hurt and anger. I was afraid to sleep and dream; I didn’t want to anything except run away from everyone who insisted on asking if I was okay. I needed to figure out why God would let something go so wrong. Could God make a mistake?

I was upset for what I now see as self-centered reasons. I had confidence from the beginning that Coach was far better off in heaven than he could ever be on earth. Still, I was angry that he could not be there with and for me anymore. Coach had helped me grow even in my faith—so why would God take him from me?

Ironically enough, as I questioned God over the next months, I became increasingly impressed by Him. Although I hated to think of anything good coming from Coach’s death, I had to acknowledge that my non-Christian teammates were becoming open to God as we grieved together. I witnessed radical changes in the way I myself understood the world. God was working, even through our loss.

Eventually I began to realize that I had never had any real control over my life. I too could die at any moment. No longer able to place trust in my own plan, there was only God to turn to. As I brokenly searched the scriptures for answers, He impressed me by His power and foresight and promise to always watch out for me. Isaiah 43 became my favorite passage: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God.”

As I witnessed the truth of these words firsthand, they obtained powerful new meaning. God promised that His plan for me was perfect, and I came to believe Him in a way that I never had. I truly had nothing at all to fear. I did not have to play life on the safe side. I could be passionate about life, I could jump at every opportunity, I could take risks. I could live full of life for God because I trusted Him to guide me through it.

It took me awhile to discover all this, as my eyes were only gradually opened to the peace and truth in God’s promises, a “slow falling-into-place of previously disconnected elements” (Hine). Neither was I was not direct and sure as I traded insecurity for confidence. As Whitaker Chambers wrote, “We are cripples…[until] the soul’s new proportions are defined.” I was crippled, but it was only through this that I learned to see the world from a whole new perspective.

I still miss Coach and I never could bring myself to take his number out of my phone. I think of him every time I see a blue jeep, go out for pizza, or hear someone call me “Emmers”. But now I can smile at the memories, and thank God for the perfect plan He has. A plan that once I questioned, and now trust in a way that has radically changed my worldview. I don’t have to play life on the safe side to ensure that I get the life that I want. I can leap outside my comfort zone, confident that no matter where I end up, that God is guiding me through a plan to prosper and not to harm me, to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).