Broken America: A Few Reflections Written on a Greyhound Bus

11:57am, Friday, June 5, 2015

As I write this I am rolling through the Midwest on a Greyhound bus toward Springfield, Missouri to be a bridesmaid in my college roommate’s wedding. I have ridden buses in many foreign countries, but I think this is my first time on a large bus in my native land.

Exchanging the scenery, language, and general level of hygiene, the despair among my fellow passengers is not so different from that of so many in Honduras.

In the bus terminal waiting area an obese Caucasian man of about 30 years began playing an arcade game designed for preteens, and when he didn’t get the prize he wanted, he stormed away from the lit-up game, telling his girlfriend, “Baby, honey, f*** that machine. I’m not wasting anymore quarters there.” I was stunned and saddened by his level of anger toward something so insignificant.

Now, as I sit in seat 31 on the bus, a very short young man with blonde shaggy hair a couple rows in front of me called several people on his cell-phone and began a vicious diatribe using all kinds of profanity at full-volume while his young girlfriend slept with her head on his lap. He wears a t-shirt that says, “All I do is win.”

I wonder if he believes that.

Moments ago he went off the chain with a line of cuss words when he inadvertently hit his funny bone on the armrest, and now he is brushing his girlfriend’s hair with a bright blue brush.

I am not making fun of, defending or judging these people; I am merely observing my fellow countrymen after having been away for so long.

I believe riding a Greyhound bus is a good way to see many Americans that otherwise get pushed out of our radar; they don’t exactly fit in with high school varsity football players and respectable middle-class business people. And in a country where so many people have their own cars or travel long-distance on planes, a Greyhound bus is a good place to see those who don’t have such privileges.

The majority of the dozens of people I’ve seen thus far this morning in the bus terminal and now en route have looked very unhealthy, overweight, and angry. I imagine that many of them have grown up on McDonalds, reality television, broken dreams, and not much else.

Now he’s brushing his own hair with the bright blue brush and jumping up and down giddily in his seat. I wonder when he’ll start screaming again.

So I’m not sure where to take this train of thought, other than to say that it’s not Honduras that’s broken or the down-and-out Americans; I could probably board any bus in Slovakia or South Africa or Russia and find these same people – some white, others black, some brown, each with an undeniably unique story, yet each marked by the same void: a void of Truth, of the transformative knowledge that there is a Just, Merciful God, that there is a way into His Kingdom, and that He desires to begin transforming us into His likeness right now, whether we are blue-collar workers, struggling single moms or unemployed rejects. Maybe these people have never heard it or maybe they have and they rejected it; who knows. Maybe they grew up tossed around the foster system, never knowing love, or maybe they stormed out on good, stable homes.

So I imagine the obese arcade-playing man as a young child, a baby even, and wonder if someone had come into his life to teach him the Way, to guide him into the Good Shepherd’s arms, day after day after day, if things maybe would have turned out differently. I see the shaggy-haired blonde kid with too-long jeans and see him as a rejected third grader who was put on the teacher’s ‘bad list,’ while he went home each night to his alcoholic mother because dad was in prison, and I wonder if maybe his vocabulary could be different – edifying, uplifting – if somewhere along the line someone came alongside him to teach him about the God who transforms us, who exchanges rage for self-control and self-loathing for joy.

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers, but I trust in a God who does. As He is giving me new eyes to see, I come to understand more and more each day why Jesus was a man well-acquainted with sorrow: How could He not be?

Creation — even in today’s polluted, concrete world — is dripping with God’s glory, with the divine fingerprint – Just look out the window at the herds of cattle as they somber peacefully through endless green meadows! And the crazy part is that we were placed here as His image-bearers, specially designed to contain His glory in a way that no other created thing can.

And when we don’t fulfill our purpose, when we miss out on our destiny as heirs to the Kingdom, adopted sons and daughters of the King?

We place our worth in arcade games and spew profanity on buses, eating our way to an unattainable happiness, wondering why we can’t win at life.

2 thoughts on “Broken America: A Few Reflections Written on a Greyhound Bus”

  1. Really astute observations leading to the understanding that this country needs missionaries as much if not more than any country does. Without a loving home and parents who teach, children can’t know how to grow up other than by following the patterns set by the adults around them. Thank you for sharing what you saw, Jennifer, sad as it is. Blessings always~

  2. I spent my own first week of June in Missouri, just north of Springfield, saying “goodbye” to my older brother and then attending his funeral later in the week. Seeing many old family and friends reminded me of my own personal history, and how my Lord stepped into my life at a critical time, through the few words of a faithful servant of His. Sometimes it isn’t how much we say, or how eloquent the message– we simply need to say what God has put in our heart, and His Spirit will give it all the eloquence it needs.

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