The most valuable part of my post-secondary education happened during the ten hours a week I spent riding the bus between the campus and my suburban home. For a shy, high-strung, claustrophobic young man, these crowded bus rides served as an intensive hands-on program in acceptance.
The older buses were unpleasantly warm in the summer, but much worse in the winter. The driver sits next to the front door, which must open every other block to let in a few more people. Even though it was often thirty below zero, he would always be wearing only a company-issue fleece — his parka would take up too much of his limited workspace. With each opening of the door comes a blast of arctic air, and so in order to stay halfway comfortable the driver keeps the heat dialed up all the way.
This creates, for the passengers in the back of the bus, a microcosm of runaway climate change. As the bus creeps across town, it fills up with Gortexed students until they are bulging against the yellow line at the front, and the temperature inside each parka rises to tropical levels. Nobody dares open a window because it would it would mean the person sitting nearest to it would have his face frozen even as the rest of his body sweltered.
Faring the worst is the person who lets himself get angry at this arrangement, because this sends him down an even steeper spiral — he fumes into his parka and long underwear, cooking his body faster and bringing his mind to a full boil. Then he is defenseless against everything, inside his mind and out. He is physically trapped, and the context of this powerless feeling expands to the rest of his life. Academic worries descend on him. His relationship suddenly seems unsatisfactory. He begins to hate the institutions which torture him like this every day: the transit service, the college, the commercial sector for which he is going to school to please, and all of their unsympathetic expectations.
He may, at this moment, remember a familiar prayer along these lines:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
But he finds this does not help him accept his physical state, or the chaotic life situation swirling around it. Acceptance of this sort is not something he tries to do often, because it doesn’t occur to him except in moments where he feels powerless. He has been trained that acceptance is difficult, and is always an act of great willpower.
He may learn, after a few years of crosstown winter bus rides, that acceptance is more of a learned reflex than anything, and shouldn’t be reserved for things that cannot be changed. Read More