Somewhere on the Way to Here

May 4, 2024

*For all the people who told me I should write about The School Bus. Here you go.

The old school bus pulled up to the designated street corner in Manhattan, stopping in front of a loose gathering of 15 people. Bruce pulled open the door and jumped onto the sidewalk, and after shelling out $50 apiece, our passengers boarded the remodeled bus, complete with four bunks in the back. Now that I think about it, that was the only renovation besides the red and gray paint on the exterior. The bench seats dedicated to transporting a generation of squirming school children were worn, the vinyl covering torn in places, but they would do.

All were solo, except for three British girls traveling across America together. Their names vanished from my mind long ago, except Jules, an “older” man in his 40s who wore a beret, and a willowy Native American woman named Rose.  A few faces flicker in my memory – the wide-eyed Brits and a young man who occupied a bunk the whole trip with a large bottle of Vodka. I had a summer to kill before a final semester in high school. Bruce, a Viet Nam vet and entrepreneur, invested in the retired bus and posted the ad in the New York Times.

For years, I kept a photo taken out in Utah, the red and gray bus on the side of the road and the crew outside, taking potty breaks. Or throwing up for the guy with the vodka. We hadn’t thought of things like bathrooms and food. Definitely not showers. It was 1973. Hygiene was not trending. Rose helped Bruce with the grueling five-day around-the-clock drive. I was too young, it was decided, and I envied Rose, her 26-year-old sophistication, silky straight black hair, and earthy beauty. Bruce sat up front next to her, and they talked into the night. As the state lines ticked by, I receded into the Iowa corn fields, reticent and aloof.

It marked my first and only drive cross-country. Something in me had to run back then, like the thing I was missing was just over the state line. I was always ahead of myself, searching for God knows what, refusing to look back at what I threw away. The Present was a pit-stop, a weightless blur and what I did or did not do was of little account. I remember the full moon over the Rockies, how the chilled air felt different, the smell of ancient pine. Then, the salt flats of Utah, a slot machine in Reno dumping nickels onto the floor. Back to the bus.

“Retro” from the 70’s

I wanted to be measured and cool, but I was far from it, although I worked hard to portray indifference. I often think of this “old me” when I meet people who act like they don’t care. I believe we all do; we’re just not sure we matter.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

 In San Francisco, everyone got off except a couple of stragglers. I was glad to see Rose go, but my residual jealousy and instability followed me down Route 1 as the bus chugged past Monterey and Big Sur. I remember it was beautiful, but I don’t recall any wonder or joy.

When we reached LA, Bruce ran over a Stop sign and decided it was time to dock the red and gray beast. We found a large empty parking lot and ran, as far as I know, never to return, and found an apartment overlooking the ocean. Other vets came around, and there was cash flow somehow. I found my musician brother, who was hungry and lost in LA, grateful for a giant burrito.

Suzanne was an alcoholic I cared for a few months ago, my age, but looking at least 10 years older. And dying slowly, as alcoholics do. I tried to think of her young, her dry yellow skin smooth and supple, her laugh loose and melodic instead of coarse and shredded, aged from smoke, her lungs tired from coughing and the work of breath. She said she was sober, then she wasn’t, and the years were hazy, like the way to California. It mattered, it was weighty, but at the same time, it didn’t matter anymore. She was alone, except for a nurse, a stranger, who could listen and try to imagine. I imagined that somewhere, she looked for peace, freedom, and love like all good sixties girls. then forgot about ever finding it. Hope was deferred, an embarrassment as communes shut down and protests lost purpose. A drink helped.

I was there in 1985, where the road ends at Nowhere, at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, where all running stops. I just wanted to lie down. There, God met me, shook me by the shoulders, and said, “Wake up!” I don’t ever want to forget that. El Roi—”the God who sees,” the God who heard my pathetic prayer, “God help me,” who rides the wings of the wind to catch a lonely girl falling.

Strange to think He saw me on that throw-a-way school bus, the Nebraskan dust blowing through my tangled hair, searching while running. It’s not here, it’s not here either. The Lord who rides through the desert, eyes on the scowling teenager. He knows it’s not here, and it’s also not yet. He waits. He has all the time in the world.

I don’t recall the trip home. For a long time after, I just wanted to be normal. Live in a duplex and hang laundry on a line, then wait for the husband to yell, “Honey, I’m home!”  I never came even close. After God rescued me that day, He pointed me to Jesus, to the freedom that people like me and Suzanne were looking for. I hope she found it, even in her last weary breath. A small spark, a dying ember, can flash to a flame of Hope, a robust, everlasting promise of His glory.  That’s all He needs! And you are changed from one small degree of glory to the next. It’s beautifully un-normal.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, Hebrews 6:19

If you know me, you know I still love to travel. I like all of it—echoey airports, cramped jets, the clacking rhythm of a train ride, even the fumy chug of a bus, my face against the cold glass as we rumble over the bridge, the canal below a ribbon of morning fire. To be honest, there is still something restless and searching deep within. But it’s different. I’m anchored in a place I know I won’t find here. This is not my home.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. C.S. Lewis

 Not yet. There is much to love and do in this world, but one day, I will abandon my old broken down body and run, free and unencumbered, through the veil, straight to Jesus.

It’s here, you’re here!” He will say. Somehow I know He will be smiling.

“Welcome home.”