There’s only one seat left when I get on the track bus.
Well, two seats really, but the one in the front technically belongs to a baby, and she should probably stick with her mom, Distance Coach, for now. That leaves one seat, way in the back.
It’s been ages since I was a “back of the bus” kid, and even that was only a too-short senior year, rich with confidence brought on by teen accolades like “Cross Country Captain” or, better yet, “Viola Section Leader.” Since then, I’ve been happy with whichever seat is most open, and as a coach and teacher this typically leaves the front. It’s fine. I usually fall asleep listening to Sigur Ros, never wishing I was holding court in the back.
The final seat is next to 800 Runner, who is also an energetic student in my fourth period. I awkwardly ask if I can sit down in the seat currently holding what looks like everything he owns.
“I was kind of saving this seat for my pillow… but OK.”
Since we compete in a league of other international schools, sports at BFA carry an entirely different set of traditions from sports at home. In high school, the ride to our track meets was approximately 20 minutes, enough time to ask for a stick of gum or a sip of Powerade, to French-braid my and, if I was quick, one of my teammate’s hair. In DoDDS European, our nearest competitor is three hours away. If we’d have to leave earlier than 5:00 AM to get there by meet time, we go the night before and spend the night on a gym floor somewhere. So bus rides, they are a gargantuan deal here. And bus seats, those are critical.
I find myself surrounded by my own students, the juniors who apparently rule this back of the bus. After the initial wails of “Oh, it’s my English teacher coming back to haunt me!” we settle into apparently normal bus routines. There are German verses to memorize (“Der Herr ist meine Hirte…”), hip hop songs to listen to, clips of Glee to watch on an iPod. They ask me what I was like–and what the world was like–when I was in high school. I hand a poetry book to 800 runner, recommending Billy Collins’s “On Turning Ten” for an upcoming project, and listen to the song he’s singing at Junior Senior Banquet. The sun sets as the autobahn slides by.
Near Kandern, the conversation turns to faith, the practical ways of living it out in a world generally less friendly than the one they’ve known so far. They share their experiences in Bahrain, in Italy and Chile and Greece. As we exit the freeway we’re pondering God’s will, the goals of evangelism and the nature of free will and election.
I think about how long it’s taken us to get here, to these important conversations, both on this bus ride and this year. About how much trust is involved, in this transient community, in going deep and sincere. I’m honored by their earnestness and thankful, again, for the privilege in teaching of spending a whole school year with students. It’s a long time, and by the spring we know each other well enough to be honest, well enough to invest.
“How long are you staying, Ms. Dahlstrom?” someone asks, just a few kilometers from home.
And I know it’s an important question, to them and to me, even if I don’t have an answer yet. I know because I’m finding that this place, any place, deepens the longer I stay. I wish for a better verb than this expression of dimension. Yet with under fifty students, depth is the best word to describe the titles of coach, mentor, advisor and big sister that weave their way into and beyond the classroom. I am still a teacher, still passionate about words, the writing and sharing of them. But I’m also holding starting blocks at track meets, or fixing the hair of Banquet MC between acts, the same hair I curled and pinned up this afternoon. This has proved to be vaster than I ever expected it could be.
As life with Christ always is. I’m thankful.