The Story of the Bus.

Early on a Sunday morning, I was in church. I sat next to an elderly African woman. I enjoy going to the Catholic Church nearby. It makes me feel close to my daughter in Australia. I feel at home there. 

The church is a very quiet reverential space where I get to drop into an energy of grace that prepares me for the week ahead. It grounds me. Sometimes when I am paddling in the sunrise at the Vaal dam looking up at the clouds, I am in the church of nature. 

This Sunday morning, I was sitting next to an elderly lady. I thought she was immersed in her own thoughts. However, when it came to some readings, she pulled out her phone and beckoned me to use her bible diary to follow the service. 

After Mass, she waited for me in the foyer to show me where I could buy such a diary at the church shop. I had never seen such a bible diary before. She went out of her way to look after me.

How many times have you encountered the surprise of someone beckoning you into new spaces? It took me back to the story of the bus in my book “Belonging”.

I could not understand why people were so fascinated by the bus story in my book. It seemed like such a small, inconsequential story.

Belonging tells the story of growing up in Apartheid South Africa. I mentioned briefly how I boarded the bus designated “non-whites” but others pressed me to tell more of the story. 

I did not think the story mattered. 

Excerpt from book: Belonging, Finding Tribes of Meaning.

The first time I boarded the bus marked ‘Non-whites Only’, the driver looked at me quizzically. He knew and I knew that I had seen the sign printed in bold letters on the front of the bus. An unspoken moment passed between us. An acknowledgement of the absurdity of it all. As I stepped on the bus, there was a part of me knowing I was swimming upstream. My heart was hammering in my chest. I did not know how I would be received, this pale girl stepping onto a different bus. Not her allocated journey. Not the predictable route. Taking the road less travelled. Turning around, I faced the sea of faces watching me. One older lady glared at me, her frowning fearful gaze said, ‘You don’t belong here’. But another woman with a weather-beaten smile beamed broadly at me and patted the seat beside her,  encouraging me to join her. And in her small, wordless gesture and my response, we made the abnormal normal. This was to be the first of many trips on different buses. Buses that would change my life…

Sometimes you do not think your story matters. Sometimes you do not realize how your actions can give others grace – an unspoken gesture.

The old lady passing me her bible reminded me of the wizened old lady on the bus who patted the seat next to her 46 years ago.

She was saying you belong here. 

(Have you got a story of a pivotal moment which made you feel that you belonged?)

Sometimes the smallest of wordless gestures can have the greatest impact.

You belong.


Alison Weihe

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