By JIM NICHOLS
My elementary school was within walking distance of my home. It was even close enough that I walked home from school for lunch. We apparently had a rather long time for lunch because, even though it was several blocks, I do not remember having to hurry home and hurry back to school. It was certainly preferable to eating in the school cafeteria, something my picky taste buds could not tolerate. Why substitute that for Mom’s lunch?
The junior high, however, was miles away and I had to ride the bus. I found that experience to be a three-year adventure that was challenging in many ways. Those of you who have ridden school buses probably have had some of the same feelings. Every fall the local newspaper would publish a bus schedule; it identified down to the minute when the bus would be at certain corners. This was a large school district so there were buses going all over the place, it seemed to me. It was extremely pertinent that you be at the correct corner at the correct time or you would be left. It was even more important to pick out the correct bus after school or the ride would not take you home, but to someone else’s home.
Waiting for the bus at the corner was, in itself, part of the adventure. What would this day hold for me? Did I remember to bring everything I needed? Was my packed lunch in my backpack? I do not want to have to eat in the cafeteria. Do my clothes look OK today?
A small cluster of other children gathered at the same corner and we waited together. During that time, we were each making an assessment of the others; this was a preview to what would happen when our number increased on the bus and then an enlarged experience when we all actually arrived at school.
The bus eventually was full with junior high students. All were probably equally uncertain about the coming day, simply for different reasons. Some had left home that morning with parents angry with them; that is a terrible way to start the day. Some were glad to get away from the shouting at home. Still others locked the door behind them because they were the last one left at the house since both parents had already gone to work.
There were frightening and fascinating aspects of students on the bus. A few of the boys were maturing early and looked as if they had slight beards and certainly had lower voices; their testosterone levels were up and they were aggressive and intimidating in a frightening way. A few of the girls were maturing in a more pleasant and fascinating way, especially if you are a twelve-year-old boy on the same bus.
Most of us realize that much of the learning during our school years is not really achieved in the academic arena. Learning to master those subjects was certainly important, but the whole school atmosphere was instructional, including the bus rides. Every year brought a new teacher or set of teachers and each of them came with idiosyncrasies. We had a different set of classmates every year or every class period. The expectations to read more and with more understanding leaped higher each year. And still, we were concerned with whether we had loaded our backpack correctly and how our clothes looked.
However, we had to be careful not to let all this show in our faces and demeanor. Appearances counted more than just about anything. Little did we know that thoughtful people could not be fooled by our brave stances. We have all been there and we are thankful for those older who could read our faces and move alongside us to keep us moving and growing. They offered security and encouragement.
I have broken several promises to God. One was that if He would just get me through seventh grade, I would grow up and become a seventh-grade teacher. I did grow up, but I never fulfilled the second part of that promise. Once again, I have another example of God’s grace in my life.
This site contains ten wonderful photographs of children waiting for the bus; it is worth your time to look at it.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain