Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Happy Bus Driver

The Happy Bus Driver

I once knew a happy bus driver. I do not remember his name, but he drove the De Camp bus, the #66, which went from Montclair, New Jersey to Manhattan. I used to take it all the time. They were real nice buses, with a lot of lights and buttons on the dash. I used to sit up front and watch the world slide beneath the wheels.

It was New Year's Day some years ago and I took a bus into New York. I met some friends for brunch and then went to the Port Authority bus terminal to catch the #66 back home. I recognized the bus driver from previous trips. He was always so friendly. He took my ticket with his usual sincere smile and I found a seat near enough to the front to see the lights and the road ahead. After giving the number of passengers to the dispatcher....a guy who stood near the bus and always wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat...the dispatcher whistled and with a wave of his hand okayed the departure of the bus. The bus was full. So off we went into a new day, a New Year, on toward my home town.

Troubles started half way home. Traffic was backed up for miles on Route

3. The bus stopped. It inched forward and stopped again. The red and yellow rear lights of automobiles, trucks, vans and buses twinkled for miles ahead. I heard grumbling behind me. At first it was barely noticeable. A few coughs, a little swear word or two. But then the grumbling increased in volume. It sounded like a terrible human orchestra tuning up for a song they did not know at all.

The bus driver looked at me in his rear view mirror and smiled. "Watch this," he said. And he then turned off Route 3. I had never seen that done before. In my experience, stuck bus drivers always stayed stuck. They preferred, for whatever reason, the slow crawl as opposed to pulling off the road.

The bus driver started to sing Christmas carols. He had a good voice. His voice had that smooth Perry Como quality to it. When Perry Como sang, even the worst things in life were given a silver lining.

We went through Rutherford, a part of Lyndhurst, a section of Clifton.

The bus driver knew the streets as well as the words and melodies of the carols he was singing. As he guided the bus along, the mood of the bus changed. People began to sing, and smile, and everything seemed as twinkly as the lights on the dash of the bus.

Bernard Lonergan was a Jesuit theologian. Some have called him the greatest religious thinker since Aquinas. His stuff is complicated. I tried reading him more than once, but got stuck a lot, not unlike the vehicles on Route 3 that New Years morning. But Lonergan once said something to a friend of mine and I have never forgotten it. Religious maturity, said Lonergan, has a lot to do with "sitting back and realizing that God is the driver of the bus." By "bus," Lonergan was referring to human life, the cosmos, history....this vast mystery we are moving through and that has a Driver and plenty of lights. Lots of twinkly lights.....headlights, rear lights, dashboard lights, stars, human eyes and hearts, dispatchers who sport western wear in an eastern metropolis, happy bus drivers, and words that come from human hearts.

Well, we all got to where we were heading for that day. There was no extra charge for the songs, for the happiness of that bus driver and his wondrous detour.

I saw him in Montclair months later, in a diner. I asked a friend of mine about him and he said to me "Yeah, lives alone, not far from here. Drives a bus and he's crazy. Sings all the time." I felt sad when he said that. But then there are those among us who loathe detours and who have little patience with those who sing through the blues.

God will get us where we were all made to go. It is a good ride. Trust the lights, the detours, and listen real close to you heart when things seem to get panicky. Listen for a song, a soft melody. It will ease you and help you to trust the God who is just ahead in the driver's seat. Some say God does not exist. Some say he is crazy. Don't pay them any mind. Just listen to the song, and watch the lights. We are all moving somewhere...

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