One of the most difficult themes in the Gospels for a recent college graduate to embrace is the premium Jesus places on childlike simplicity. After four years of study, study, study and achieve, achieve, achieve, all in preparation for entering “the adult world,” it’s not very intuitive to look at children and think, “There! A model for me to follow!” Oftentimes I’ve found my impulse to be quite the opposite. We live in a world that spends a lot of energy glorifying “adult” maturity and in doing so I think we forget that, like children, we never truly escape a certain level of dependence on something greater than ourselves.
For this reason, it’s very humbling to recognize that there are plenty of things that still make me feel like a child even at the bustlin’ “adult” age of 23. And, like it or not, these childish moments pop up even in the line of duty of being an LV.
Take my fear of wasps, for example. Make no mistake, I am terrified of them. Everything about wasps scares me—the cold humming sound they make, the ungraceful/irregular way that they buzz around, and the fact that they sting you when angry. For you Harry Potter fans out there, if I ever had the misfortune of running into a boggart (that strange magical creature that morphs into whatever you fear the most) there is no question that it would turn into a hive of angry wasps the moment it saw me approaching.
Which is why, in the course of my bus-driving duties at De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, OR, I was rather dismayed when I had the following exchange with a student:
I was at the front wheel when I called back: “Yeah…what’s up, Alex?”
A pregnant pause.
“There’s a giant wasp in this bus!”
My body went numb and my mind didn’t quite register what my ears had heard. It took a few moments for it to sink in: A wasp in the bus? A wasp in the bus. A wasp in the bus! Instantly my attention fell on my driving. I became ominously aware of the fact that I was in control of a giant tank of a vehicle going 50 miles an hour on the highway. Sitting alone in the back was a 13-year-old girl, whose safety I was squarely responsible for, and right next to her was a wasp. For most people this is nothing. For me this is “Houston, we have a problem.”
And for Alex, this was a disaster.
“Mr. Rivera,” she cried again, “stop the bus! Call the school! This is a disaster! We can’t keep driving with this giant thing here. Oh, it moved. Pull over!!”
“Take it easy, Alex,” I said with artificial indifference, “it’s not going to hurt you.”
I felt restless realizing I couldn’t say much more.
“Mr. Rivera! I’m scared! This thing is right in front of me! What if it starts flying around?”
The thought of a wasp buzzing in front of my face while driving a school bus on the highway was admittedly enough for me to pull over. Maybe, I thought, we could open a window and the thing would just fly away. In any case, poor Alex was having an awful time.
As we came off the highway, I stopped in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven and Alex shot out the door. As she kept pleading with me to call the school (a little premature, I thought), I got out and gingerly walked up to the window where the wasp was perched. Yep, I thought, a big one. How is this thing alive in late November?
For most people, I guess, this kind of incident should be over in seconds. I wish I could say my decision-making process was in high gear at this moment, but this generally isn’t true whenever I’m scared. There are a million very simple things that someone in my position could have done to end this farce—not the least of which include taking a newspaper and whack, or at least opening a window and seeing if this thing flies off. I’m sure that the real odds of Alex or myself getting stung were in the single digits. But hey, I was now supposedly the adult in this absurd scenario where an oblivious little insect had managed to leave a bus driver and his student stranded in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven at eight in the morning.
But this moment went deeper: the one person whose world was falling apart faster than mine was Alex. I looked at her and knew that she felt utterly helpless. For her this wasn’t a nuisance or an uncomfortable inconvenience. For her 13-year-old mind this was a disaster. She was starting to tear up.
And so that left me with the need to suck it up and deal with our little friend. I poked my head in the bus and saw that the wasp had taken off in flight and buzzed toward the back. I went around, opened the back door, and took another look. The wasp laid motionless against the window.
I then noticed a broom laying on floor, so with my eyes fixed on the wasp my hand reached for the broom. I then took aim. One strong thrust and maybe I could kill it.
Like a trembling child, I took a whack at the wasp. I didn’t quite kill it—on the contrary I seemed to have given it new life as it took off into the air again. But, lo and behold, it flew right past me and flew freely into the morning air without incident.
Part of me wondered later that morning: how would other people have dealt with this situation? Would they have kept driving with the wasp in the bus? Would they have just walked to the back and killed it with their shoe? (Or with their bare hands??) Would they have been scared like me? Or would it have taken them half as long to solve the incident as it took me? Did I handle Wasp-gate in the best way possible?
On one level, these questions reflect the embarrassment of being scared of something as harmless as a little wasp at an adult age. I couldn’t help but think that whenever one is responsible for a scared student, one’s own fears shouldn’t get in the way. To be scared is to be no better than a child.
And yet, I realize now that sometimes, we’ll just have to get by with our own childlike vulnerabilities. Long after my time as an LV is complete, I suspect I’ll never be the fearless adult in the room (or bus) 100% of the time. To ignore this is to lose touch with our own human frailty. And for what it’s worth, it was my crippling fear that allowed me to share this moment with Alex in a fresh, genuine way that I probably would not have experienced otherwise. We now joke about that morning. At the very least it has allowed me to look back warmly and fondly at that absurd incident.
But even so, I have no idea how that wasp managed to live till late November. For all I know, it’s still out there somewhere, waiting.
Tony Rivera is a first year LV serving at De La Salle North Catholic in Portlant, Oregon and is a 2013 graduate of the University of Notre Dame.