Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! (If you have not read The Fault in Our Stars or The Magicians they are both quoted, although heavily out of context)
Today I finished rereading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green phenomenal author and nerd activist (I don’t know if that’s what I should really call him that but I’m calling him an activist) who has this amazing knack for bringing nerdy people together and then inspiring them to do great things. The book ends on a sad note which makes you want to cry both tears of sadness and tears of relief. One of the ending lines is “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you.” – pg. 313. Immediately I was transported back to one of the defining lines of The Magicians by Lev Grossman where the main character, Quentin, is talking to his girlfriend Alice. “[Quentin:] ‘You can’t just decide to be happy.’ [Alice] ‘No, you can’t. But you can sure as hell decide to be miserable.'” – pg. 325 What do these things have to do with the bus driver? I’ll get to that, just bear with me a bit.
I work for a company where I transcribe phone calls for the hard of hearing. That means that I listen to phone calls and turn speech into text, which is then displayed for the hard of hearing on a screen for those who subscribe to our services. I provide a service, but in as such I’m in a uniquely thankless position. I have no contact with customers, I cannot say anything to the customers, and have no interaction while I am doing my job. The only thanks I get are the same few quotes pulled from thank you letters, addressed to the corporate entity, and pasted along drab dimly lit walls like propaganda that reminds us of why we put ourselves through what most would consider a hellish nightmare of a job (and honestly most people do it because it’s a paycheck, not because it’s a helpful service). Don’t get me wrong, I like my job, but it’s easy to slip into a default mindset that focuses on what is wrong, what is terrible, and the lack of direction and career that this job gives me.
Fast forward to my bus driver tonight. As I cross the threshold of most busses I am greeted most often by half-hearted smiles and a sullen and almost broken attempt to be friendly. I’m sure there’s some sort of policy that bus drivers are supposed to greet passengers but I’m sure that’s obeyed to the same extent that the law in Milwaukee that says you’re not allowed to smoke within 20 feet of any bus stop is obeyed. I’m sure you can imagine how often that gets followed.
Today my bus driver greeted me with a hearty smile. She looked me in the eye and asked me how I was doing. I often feel like when people ask how you’re doing it’s less of a genuine question about how someone’s doing, and more of a strategic opening. An invitation for someone to unleash the fury of their day, which in turn leads to reciprocating the defeatest mentality which permeates our thoughts at the end of a day of hard work (because no matter how physically or mentally straining your job is, 8 straight hours of work is always hard work).
My bus driver genuinely hoped I was doing well. She had an uptick in her tone and she smiled wide. She called me baby at one point and all I could do was smile back to her. I sat down and couldn’t help but feel really great about myself at that moment.
In the same exact seat I always sit in (first group of seats behind the back door of the bus, raised up so I can see over the heads of average people – which is a serious concern when you’re short – and on the right so that I can see out the bus’s windshield ensuring I don’t miss my stop) all I can think of is how I normally cross that threshold and how I’m usually greeted.
In jobs such as being a bus driver, or transcribing phone calls for the hard of hearing, it can be easy to get lost in the ‘daily grind.’ Being a bus driver, I’m sure, is probably no more thankful than my job. Shuttling people around all day. When you’re late you get yelled at, if you take off to early someone might get left behind. I’ve heard stories of bus drivers being assaulted (one story from a dear friend where a driver was almost assaulted because a rider’s bus transfer had expired and the driver wouldn’t let the rider onto the bus, despite the fact that it’s the bus drivers job). Drivers are seen as average, everyday, and mundane. The loud noises, the ridiculous and dramatic people (keep in mind that my bus driver was driving a bus around at 10pm) could all be reasons to frown, even scowl, and to be down in the dumps. This is how you get the bleak faced dreary eyed bus driver whose only eye contact with people is to make sure they have the appropriate pass when not paying for their ride.
But my bus driver clearly made a choice. It may be a choice to be happy. If you believe Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s than it was a choice not to be miserable. If you believe Green’s The Fault in Our Stars it’s a choice of who affects her, her mood, her attitude, and her life. My mentality – just because I have to work with you doesn’t mean I have engage you. While I’m always happy to talk I make a conscious choice of who I interact with. Why? Because when I hang around people who are moody, unhappy, and generally work a mindset akin to “Look at me because my life sucks.” I am making a conscious choice to allow them to affect me. I am making a choice to be surrounded by moody, unhappy, and dramaticly ridiculous people. I cannot imagine how difficult that must be when you’re a bus driver.
I’m going to end with this – a quote from Tim Sanders’ book Today We Are Rich. While I could easily argue semantics all over his book (I think he mislabels confidence – which is the majority of the book) he makes amazing points about how to be happy and, more importantly, how to achieve happiness when you have made it one of your goals in life to be happy. Quote his grandmother Sanders says: “‘You’ve got to give your gratitude muscle a workout every day if you want to feel grateful…People who don’t spend time on this muscle get spiritually flabby over time and forget to appreciate the very things they wished for…'” Throwing in his own 2 cents Sanders writes “You can’t change your feelings, but you can change your your daily habits to strengthen your sense of gratitude…” Sanders points out that we are going to feel run down, broken, unappreciated, and generally just in the dumps. You can’t change these feelings, but if you work to recognize the great things in life, and you choose people who also recognize these great things in life (like from The Fault in Our Stars), you will become much happier in life generally. You see life as much better, grander, magical, and, to be frank, less shitty.
The bus driver reminds me what it means to choose in our own lives. We don’t get to choose everything, and often times the things we can’t choose have some of the greatest impact. But in life we do get to choose how we perceive, view, and interpret those things in life. We can choose who influences our lives, whether we want to be miserable, and how we deal with our own feelings. The bus driver clearly had things figured out, at least for today. As I exited the bus I made sure to walk past the back door to the front of the bus and give the driver an extra loud thank you, because she earned that shit. And, face it, she probably sees a lot of shit being a bus driver. Hopefully my extra loud thank you could help make her smile and enthusiasm last just that much longer.
Shawn Kerr is a writer working towards writing as a career. With the belief that ideas can only exist within time – at a particular time in a particular context – he writes so that ideas may be set in stone to be later revisited (if only by himself) and can be changed, rewritten, and transformed. He much prefers thinking to writing, but thinking doesn’t pay any bills and talking is nothing more than rhetoric. So he writes to express ideas to himself and anyone who would like to listen.
You can find Shawn on Twitter: @RsdntAnthro
You can also contact him via e-mail: email@example.com