take an old school bus and add a bunch of students, and what do you usually get?
well, maybe not ALWAYS maniacal mayhem like this. but enclosing a bunch of hormonally-hopped-up kids inside of an ancient steel vessel with cramped seating and poor ventilation is like shaking a can of Mountain Dew Red, putting it into a microwave oven, and turning it on high.
forget our latest forest fires in the Missoula area. students cooped up in a school bus can be considerably more caustic and combustible.
but not on Bus 132.
the vibe on our route is surprisingly more serene than one would expect from a group of students with special gifts and needs. granted, there are times when tempers flare up like that exploding soda can (see vol. II of these 'chronicles' for an example of that). but on the whole, a culture of calm and quiet are the norm.
and often, a spirit of silence reigns supreme.
one of the members of our little traveling community is not an adolescent, but a preschooler (i'll call him Aaron). Aaron is in a wheelchair, and has very limited verbalization ability and no expressive speech. he attends full-day class four days a week, and by the time he gets on the bus, he's pretty plum tuckered out. it's difficult for him to keep his head upright, and his eyes roll around in their sockets like he's looking for someplace to land and rest.
so, by the time he's ridden the lift onto the bus, and my partner, Dottie, has fastened him in safely, he is usually about five seconds away from dreamland.
but some days, he's wide awake. and as he is lifted up and settled in, he takes in his ordinary surroundings on the bus like he's an astronaut about to launch on the space shuttle for the very first time.
his eyes rolling in every direction in star-gazed awe.
his face lit up with a smile like a full moon.
the first day i rode along the route, i met Aaron, and helped him onto the lift and up into his place on the bus. then i sat across the aisle from him and just looked at him.
and he swung his head over in my direction, his face down and buried in a baseball cap.
so i knelt down next to him and popped my face down into his purview like we were playing hide and seek.
and he smiled.
so i pulled my head up, and then popped it back down again.
and he giggled. and smiled.
this went on a few more times until i helped him prop his head upright. and he looked out the window in wonder and fascination.
then he swung his head back over in my direction, to see if i was still there.
and he winked.
and my heart was so instantly filled with amazement and affection, i felt like i was about to explode.
Francis of Assisi supposedly once said,
'Preach the good news at all times. If necessary, use words.'
Bruce Cockburn once wrote,
'Sometimes you can hear the Spirit
whispering to you
but if God stays silent,
what else can you do
except listen to the silence?
if you ever did, you'd surely see
that God won't be reduced
to an ideology'
he peeled back a tiny corner of the curtain that separates time from eternity to give me a little look.
he opened my heart and spirit to a Presence that cannot be fully contained in consonants and vowels, or even the cosmos itself, but explodes into our purviews in moments of startling surprise and stunning silence.
and thankfully, on our daily journey together, i'm given an incredible gift. not just by getting to travel with Aaron and my other students, but also by the nature of my calling.
because in this job, my primary task is not to talk.
but to drive.
which opens up space to listen.
and to wonder.