Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bus trips

Beve rode the bus down to Renton this afternoon to spend one last night with his brother before R and his wife fly back to Helsinki.  Beve will take them to the airport, and retrieve my car, which they've been using during their visit.

I got to thinking of famous bus rides from our past.  My first long bus trip was across the state one New Year's with my sister, the Dump.  We'd gone to Seattle to visit our relatives after Christmas, and got stuck for an extra day because the whole state was socked in with snow.  68-69 was the hardest winter we ever spent in Washington...until this year!  And that trip across the state was arduous, took many, many hours, the Greyhound stopping and all sorts of little bergs along the way, dropping off all of us who were snow-stranded in Seattle.

Beve, though, tells a story of a bus trip he took half-way across the United States one summer when he was in college.  He'd gotten a job selling books in Iowa, and let me tell you, he wasn't a very good salesperson.  Some whole weeks he had barely enough money for food, he an the other college-students who'd signed on with the Southeastern Book Company.  They shared ratty motel rooms and offered a nickel to potential customers for a piece of bread, and another nickel if they threw in a slice of bologna.  One day when Beve (6'7" even then, and weighing about 180 lbs.) knocked on one such door, the woman inside gave him an entire loaf of bread, just thrust it out the door at him, shooing him off.

It was a long summer and at the end of it, Beve spent three days on a bus, trying to get home.  One night, after curling his long body into those seats all day, there was a lay-over in St. Louis and Beve was so tired that despite the heat and humidity, he lay down on the cement sidewalk and went to sleep.  I've always imagined how he felt...and I've imagined how his mother would have felt if she'd known--her youngest child, the one she often thought she wouldn't get to keep because he was so good (makes me wonder what her notion of God must have been for her to think that Beve's 'goodness' meant that God would take him from her early), passed out on a sidewalk, and everyone walking past would sniff, thinking him a drunk.  His mother hadn't wanted her little boy to take that job, but Grampie said it'd be a good experience for him, and that he'd learn a lot.

And he did, of course.  He learned what it was like to be hungry for the first time (and only) time in his life.  He learned what it felt like to be desperate enough to sleep on a city street.  Every experience in life carves itself one way or another into a person.  When I first got to know Beve again 7 years after we graduated from high school and went our separate ways, I thought he was an innocent, the straightest of arrows.  I didn't see complexity in him in those days--just a plain old American jock who loved Jesus: that's what I saw.  But Beve had traveled on buses, he'd gotten to know truckers, he didn't only root for, but helped the underdog, the disenfranchised, the hurting.  When we lived in Holland, he befriended an older man named Bert, who'd lived a hard life but had a sweet spirit.  Beve saw that when no one else even looked.

It's the great equilizers like Greyhound buses or the Great Northern Railroad, even airplanes (if you sit squeezed into coach), that allow us to meet and rub shoulders with people whose paths we might never cross otherwise. On a bus, a healthy, middle-class, athletic boy can sit right beside an out-of-work, broken-down man who spent his last dime to buy a ticket home (or away!), and these two men--with such different histories--stare out the window at the same scenery.  On a train, one sits down at table with total strangers--who might well be anything!--and break bread together.  Participating in a meal, participating in life together, even for a moment.  And in that moment, it doesn't matter what past a person has, it only matters that they're in it together. 

And this, I think, is exactly what the Church is meant to be--sitting together, breaking bread together, participating in life together.  Not one's history, but only the view ahead.  The View of Him, I might say. One of my nephews and his wife have been attending a church in which they--white, middle-class Americans--are the minorities.  Practically everyone else they worship with thinks in a language other than English.  They left something--somewhere!--to live and work and worship where they do.  I find it a beautiful picture of what Christ's Bride actually looks like from God's point of view--hands of different hues raised to Him, people with different accents, different hair color, different passports all staring at Him!  Imagine the texture of such worship that will be the throng in front of the throne.  In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis writes of a bus trip in the after-life, and of the glorious destination where the grass is sharper, the air thicker, the water fresher than we experience here on earth.  Such churches as my nephew's make me dream of such a trip, such a Place. He says they've never felt so at home in a church.  And that, I think, is what awaits us at the end of our life's bus-ride.  Can you imagine?  I can.

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