Holiday on the Bus

by Tracine Hales Parkinson

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    An interstate bus can be a lonely place on Christmas Day. Unless you happen to be traveling with a couple of angels.

    The year I was 19 I was invited to spend the Christmas holidays working tours for the Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles with my cousin. We would be able to visit all the main attractions in the L.A. area and get paid for it too. I called for plane reservations far too late, and the only transportation still available to get me to L.A. was the bus. I would leave Logan, Utah, on Christmas Day at noon. My sister dropped me off at the Greyhound stop and I waited for the bus to come. When it arrived I remember feeling quite festive and happy because of the day and the prospect of the adventure. As I boarded the bus and looked about I saw only a few riders. They all seemed preoccupied with something outside the window. No one looked up and nobody smiled.

    I took my seat. Several stops later we picked up two little girls. They were totally laden with recently opened gifts, and I was delighted when they sat down across the aisle from me. I was feeling a little lonely that it was Christmas Day and there hadn’t been anyone to talk with. I was to learn that their names were Trisha and Debbie and they were on their way for their annual Christmas visit with their grandparents in St. George, Utah. At the time they were in the third and fifth grades. One by one they pulled out their treasures and showed me each gift they had received.

    The day progressed and soon the early evening was upon us. We stopped in a little town for a supper break. As I was exiting the bus I noticed that the only street lamp that was lit was the one above the stop. The night was very dark, and there seemed to be a million stars in the sky. The small crowd of people from the bus ate quietly, and I felt let down that it was Christmas and everyone seemed void of the spirit. As I look back I wonder now if all those folks were just sad to be apart from the people they love on Christmas Day.

    I had been doing my student teaching with some fourth graders that quarter at Utah State University and I had taught them the song “Silent Night” in sign language. As we sat and waited to be beckoned back to the bus, I asked the girls if they would like to learn it. They enthusiastically said yes and I began teaching it to them. The signs to the first verse are very simple, and they had it all learned before we boarded the bus.

    After we settled back into our seats, Trisha said to her sister, “Debbie, we should practice our song so we can show it to Grandma and Grandpa when we get to St. George.” Debbie agreed and they spread their coats onto the floor of the bus and settled down facing each other to practice. I glanced up to see that several of the other passengers on the bus were visiting quietly and some of the overhead lights were on. People seemed to have relaxed a little. Now that Christmas was coming to a close, maybe they were feeling better about having spent it on a bus.

    The girls started singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, All is bright …” After finishing the song they began again. I glanced up. Having been so totally involved with coaching them, I hadn’t noticed that all the lights in the bus had been turned off. The only light that remained on was the one above the girls’ seats. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see the eyes of the other passengers upon us. They were looking over their seats and down the aisle of the bus. The only sound was the hum of the bus and voices of the two girls clear and strong. The light above their seats reflected off their hands and emphasized the signs. The quiet that came over the bus was not the empty one I had been feeling throughout that day. It was one of peace and joy.

    The true spirit of Christmas came through to all of us who had the opportunity to be riding that bus that night. It was not connected with gift giving or even with family. I was overwhelmed at the realization that I had been searching for the spirit of Christmas at the mall, at the theater, under the tree, and in dozens of busy holiday functions, and all the time it could be found in the humblest of situations. Here it was with all its power and mystery on a bus full of strangers headed for St. George, Utah.

    I wondered if Trisha and Debbie were aware of the wonderful gift they gave to those of us riding the bus that night. Each Christmas since then they write to me and talk of the first Christmas when we met. Perhaps they too felt the warmth that permeated through the crowd that night. I find myself searching each year for that very same feeling that rushed through my soul that night and filled me with a love for other people and for the Savior.

    Illustrated by Steve Moore