Head met Door loud and hard at 3am this morning when I woke up to pee. A hazard of the itinerant lifestyle is the chance that you will forget your whereabouts in the middle of the night, as well as the placement of doors and walls. This is exactly what happened to me when Head met Door, though I got more than just a mild concussion out of it– I finally got a handle on a theretofore elusive metaphor, which, if you know me, you know is solid gold. Yes, I walked into that door because I hadn’t the first clue where I was, but also because, in my desire to disrupt my sleep as little as possible, I kept my eyes at half-mast and my brain powered down. Really, I hit the door because when I woke up, I didn’t do it all the way.
I thought a lot about doing things all the way after my last day of bus driver training. As I drove my zippy little sedan northward, the steering wheel responded to the slightest rotation, and the gas and brakes leapt to attention with pressure just a notch above a hover. This is a road-weary 2005 Honda we’re talking about, but compared to the 14-ton hulk I will be piloting cross-country, it felt like a Maserati. I barely had to think about accelerating, braking, or how to handle swerving, vacation-minded Massholes. My mind was already in Montpelier, crossing items off of my To-Do list. I was sort of driving, but mostly I was sitting, lost in my thoughts and surfacing only to flick on the turn signal. I got to Montpelier in record time with no recollection of the actual trip, my mind still racing hours if not days ahead.
It wasn’t until Head met Door at 3am that I realized that if I’d made that same trip behind the wheel of the bus, in the same disembodied fashion, I probably wouldn’t have made it to Montpelier without harming myself or someone else. Driving the bus, everything must be done all the way.
If I don’t yank on the hood with all of my strength to lever it up, I won’t be able to perform the required engine compartment inspection at the start of each day. If I don’t smash the gas pedal to the floor, I’ll never get going, and if I don’t stomp on the air brake like there’s a poisonous spider lurking under it, I’ll simply coast forever until I hit something big enough to stop me. Turning is more like steer wrestling, and the simple act of cruising down a street takes more attention to surroundings than I have ever paid in my life. My body is in the seat, working hard and bouncing along with the hydraulics, my head bobbling to check gauges, mirrors, and scanning for pedestrians. My thoughts go no further than my next maneuver, and this is as close to true mindfulness as I’ve come in a while.
With a throbbing head and the thought that I WOULD HAVE DIED OR KILLED SOMEONE IF I’D BEEN DRIVING THE BUS LIKE I DRIVE MY CAR keeping me awake, I had plenty of time to reflect upon all of the things in my life that I do half-way. (I stopped counting when I got into double digits, but let’s just say it’s a lot). Yes, efficiency is good, and with the pace of modern life, often a necessity, but when I think about all of the times when my body, mind, and spirit scatter to different zip codes, it makes me want to do things differently. With the bus, this won’t be a choice. It simply won’t go faster than it can, and it will continue to demand every ounce of presence I can muster. In this way as in many others, it will be both teacher and classroom in the months to come. Head, meet Bus.