At the back of the bus
Our journey home from the girls’ trip changed at the last minute. The reason for the change was our town festival coincided with our plans. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you are nine and the title of being “Queen” of the county is on the line, your priorities shift. Bragging momma warning alert! She did indeed win a title in the pageant; so, our switcheroo paid off, even if it meant some logistical changes in our transportation home. We traded in our train passes and purchased one-way tickets via Megabus (a double decker, wi-fi express).
The bus company uses the same stations as Amtrak so it was easy to know where to go in the city, although if it did take us a moment in downtown Chicago to locate where exactly the pick-up would be. Of course, I was a little flustered after leaving my phone on the concierge’s desk, and subsequently pretending we were playing Amazing Race with the taxi driver. Sadly, stations are places where people who haven’t seen blessings in a while congregate. This does not daunt me, and I try my best shine God’s light while I visit with them. The group waiting for various buses was an eclectic mix, and just before several buses pulled up, a young black man sitting on the retaining wall got my attention.
“Miss, I want you to know I think that is awesome.” It took me a moment to figure out what we did that was so “awesome” before I realized he was talking about the fact that a little white girl was holding a black baby doll. When I explained that he was the only doll she wanted, he was grinning from ear to ear. The call for Madison and St. Paul came and once again, it was time for “all aboard”.
The first thing I noticed was a shocking shift in temperatures from Illinois August air to the freezer inside the bus. I had packed a blanket but we were woefully underdressed for the mandatory cool temps (to keep drivers alert). Other than a few college kids heading to University of Wisconsin, the remainder was made up of young families and a few individuals. Since we were the last to embark, we took the only remaining seats left (which for those who know me struck fear in my heart). The final two spots were the very last row – where my son was seated the day he died on the school bus. That is a no-go zone for all of us, but I couldn’t ask families with tiny children to move. My fears subsided (a little) when I noticed both the bathroom and the stairs to the upper deck were behind us.
Once we were seated, I noticed our neighbor to the right was seated alone. Our driver gave the basic instructions of passenger-ship, and I almost peed in my pants when she said absolutely no alcohol, just as my fellow passenger had pulled a flask out of his pocket and took a swig. A sheepish little smile and a shoulder shrug resulted in more than a few giggles from me. Over time, the conversation began to flow between us. My neighbor, Eugene, had fallen on hard times and was trying to get his life back in order. I had to smile when he stated unapologetically that without God’s help that was never going to happen. Between Chicago and Madison, we learned much about each other’s lives, including the fact that we actually knew some of the same people from our college days.
At some point, my friend from back at the sidewalk came down and stood between us. He joined in our conversation and asked if we would mind if he stood for a while as he was healing from a back surgery. Eugene and I were both amenable, and our new friend, Anderson, a city advocate/Franciscan missionary from Detroit, jumped right in. The next hour was spent sharing our faith stories, including the tragedies that helped solidify or test that same faith.
As the sun started to set, the conversation took on a more solemn note. The date of this ride was August 13, four days after the shot that took the life of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The irony was not lost on me that here I was seated in the back of the bus (with two black men) while our country was being torn apart with hateful thoughts and acts on each side of the racial divide once again. Since the Saturday before, I had simply been praying for love to prevail and for our country to heal, which would take amazing courage, gut-wrenching hard work, and a willingness to talk, but more importantly listen.
Almost as naturally as me grabbing a sweet tea, we decided we should pray. Holding each other’s hands, we prayed, each in our faith comfort zone and pattern, but pray we did. We prayed for each other, we prayed for families hurting, for our own families, our communities, and our country. And we prayed for Ferguson. We asked God for his strength, his peace, and his light to shine in a place that none of us had ever visited. By the time, we were done, the remaining passengers were staring. I had tears streaming down, because I felt like the seat I didn’t want was a divinely appointed one.
We weren’t the only people in the world praying, but that one moment felt like God’s love was shining through as we road down the interstate. Even though we all knew our paths would most likely not cross again this side of Jordan, our prayers were the prayers of people who knew that none of our differences mattered when we came together in love. In God’s eyes, we are all his children, and no place was that more beautifully displayed than on our knees at the back of the bus.