Reflecting on a Bus Ride

This past week - on Tuesday, as a matter of fact - I experienced the most profound bus ride of my life. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “bus ride” and “profound” don’t go together. And before Tuesday afternoon, they didn’t for me either. Until then, bus rides were just a sunk cost of getting to the destination - a time to sleep, to zone out, or at the very best, to read the paper - but certainly never a time to reflect on life or just stop and be thankful just to be. But my bus ride on Tuesday - for a variety of reasons - was unlike any bus ride I’d ever been on.

As we trekked back to Cabrini from a wonderful trip to the Jersey shore, I sat next to camper Mickey Betts. Mickey and I slept for the first half of the ride, which, as any counselor will tell you, is standard operating procedure for a Camp PALS bus ride. However, shortly after we woke up, we were treated to a series of awe-inspiring sights that made this bus ride a particularly memorable one.

First, when we crossed over the Schuylkill River on I-95, we were able to look down on the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where the imposing battleships docked in the harbor shone magnificently in the afternoon sun. As I looked over at Mickey, he said with a huge smile on his face, “That is so awesome, dude.”

Not long after we crossed over the shipyard, we came upon the Philadelphia Airport. We saw rows of planes parked on the runway in a perfectly symmetrical formation, much like the battleships in the harbor. As we gazed upon that fleet, an enormous jet roared above, sliced down over our bus, and glided flawlessly onto the runway, another journey complete. Again, I looked over at Mickey, and again he observed with a big grin, “That is so awesome, dude.”

But there was even still more to come. Traveling through the city, we enjoyed the music that Julian was playing for us on the radio. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers came on, we suddenly became rockers, Mickey pounding the drums and me shredding the electric guitar. Ahead of us, camper Jon Mattern joined in on his own guitar, and we jammed on down the highway for 5 or 6 glorious minutes. Then, when “Party Like a Rock Star” followed on a different station, the three of us traded turns singing, beat-boxing, and - well - partying like rock stars, much to the delight I’m sure of the many half-asleep riders around us.

Finally, as the skyscrapers and billboards of the city slowly morphed into the tall trees and majestic hills surrounding Radnor, we sat in awe of the landscape around us, with the sun shining on our faces and the wind whipping through our hair. It was a perfect afternoon ride on the open road.

At that point, Mickey began to reflect on his experience at Camp PALS. He talked about our team, the Whales, and how without just one of the 12 of us, our team wouldn’t be the same. He then said, “This week is the best. I wish I could have all this fun every week and it never went away. Even the bus is fun. I could ride around like this all night, maybe even forever.”

His last insight surprised me - didn’t he want to get back to camp? Why would he want to stay on the bus? We’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do - things that are much more productive uses of our time than a bus ride. Right?

Then, as I began to think about all that we’d seen, the fun we’d had rocking out with our buddy Jon, and Mickey’s reflections on Camp PALS, I realized how meaningful our bus ride had been. I was so impressed by Mickey’s perspective. Rather than work himself into a hurried frenzy to arrive at our destination, he savored the opportunity to just be, and to appreciate the fun friends and stunning sights around him on our journey back to camp. He did not allow the goal of getting to our destination eclipse the opportunities that the journey there provided him to grow, learn, and reflect.

And as Camp PALS nears the end, and as we edge closer and closer to our destination here today, I realize how thankful I am to have shared this unforgettable journey with my fellow counselors and these wonderful campers, especially my camper, Jason. What I learned so emphatically this week and what I have come to admire so much about each of these campers is how they savor every single second of every day - having fun, building friendships, and making an indelible mark on the world around them, rising defiantly above any so-called “disabilities” they may have. Each of these campers has taught me profound lessons about compassion, perseverance, and unmatched purity of heart that I will never, ever forget.

And above all, these remarkable individuals have taught me that the journeys we take are often more meaningful than the destinations to which we arrive, and because of that, I will never look at bus rides the same way again.