The Bus Stop Between Two Worlds
Where I live in eastern Connecticut is a small, rural college town. My wife and I live with our two daughters, a 7-year-old and a 6-month-old, down a winding road from our local dairy farm. It is a quaint and peaceful place.
On a cold December night, watching children light the menorah at our friends’ Hanukkah celebration on the day of one our nation’s worst mass shootings. I struggled, like the nation and the world, to come to grips with a shooting at an elementary school about an hour away from my home. As the months passed, however — as I waited for a period of national introspection and mourning — I was stunned at how the event, the people and families affected were quickly eclipsed and co-opted by America’s raging gun control debate.
I just haven’t been able to shake the feeling that we missed the point; that we have become callous and have lost our appreciation for the preciousness of life. I am left with nagging questions: What if we were to lose our ability to cherish life? Have we lost it already, like an animal falling off the endangered species list? I think: How can anyone not see children, all children, as their own, as nieces and nephews, or even as themselves?
In the early pre-dawn hours, heading to the airport for an out-of-town assignment, I see children and teenagers, like apparitions or woodland creatures from a C.S. Lewis novel, waiting in the bitter cold for the rumbling school bus to arrive along our town roads. If I passed by five minutes earlier or later, having been picked up, they would not have been there, appearing and vanishing in the flicker of my headlights.
As my daughter and I go our separate ways each morning, I see her with her pink and purple sparkly backpack, hairclips and boots. She goes to school, and I go to work. Somehow, in spite of what I read in the morning paper, I am actually able to trust that things are going to be fine. And like so many other parents, I am able to lose myself in my work during the day, and almost forget about her. Almost.
In the afternoon, six hours later, I am reminded of where she and I left off. Like a record player starting up mid-song, the conversation resumes, punctuated by news of the day: an assembly; rope climbing in gym; ice cream at lunch; and the day’s lesson: “I’m as tall as an emperor penguin!”
There is a whole lifetime that happens between 9 am and 3 pm, a lifetime that begins at the end of our driveway. To the parent, it is an invisible existence. From kindergarten to 12th grade, no matter how involved you are with your child’s school day, there is a lot you miss. That spot where the school bus stops at the end of the driveway is a membrane between two worlds. Children and teenagers stand out there vulnerable, brave, trusting that they are safe. Trusting that we cherish life itself.
Join me tomorrow night! ICP Faculty Exhibition: Stories in the Social Landscape. January 17, 2014, 6-8, at the International Center of Photography, at 6th Ave and 43rd St, New York.
Ryan, 2013. From the series the Bus Stop Between Two Worlds.
On view until March 16, 2014.