The back of the bus was dark.
In the Southern heat, my skin prickled with sweat. The strong smell of honey permeated the small space as I strained to see.
We were somewhere in Georgia or North Carolina or Alabama. Only hours before, the bus had taken a sharp turn and honey spilled over what seemed the entire floor in the minuscule kitchen. At another turn, a chocolate cake sitting on a makeshift counter in front of the emergency exit toppled into the laundry basket.
Siblings warned me before I made my trek to the back of the bus. Having been in another vehicle of our family’s caravan when the catastrophes happened, I heard only muted comments and ominous statements.
“Honey spilled all over the back of the bus,” said one sibling.
“Mom’s not too happy,” another added, awed.
As a kid, I remember that Mom occasionally had a few moments of near hysteria. They were few and far between, but sometimes she reached a point where she needed some time away from the hustle and bustle of raising ten kids on a bus.
Tonight was one of those nights. We had been driving for hours and hours, it seemed, and the honey and chocolate cake episodes only added to the heat and fatigue. Only my need for the tiny bathroom made me dare approach the scene of her frustration.
Although I am sure this was not a pleasant experience for my mom, I do not remember many instances where she lost her cool. Our schedule was always changing, but Mom remained flexible.
School was conducted on the couches in the front of the bus or in a variety of Sunday school classrooms from Maine to California. She kept us tied to a strict schedule. When our home schooling was interrupted by a random school chapel service (at which we sang and gave testimonies or acted in skits), she would remind us that once the chapel service was over, we must return to our schoolwork. Going to the laundry mat and cleaning the tiny rooms on the bus were regular routines, and everyone knew their job. Practicing instruments each week day was never questioned.
I am not sure that I could have remained as calm as she appeared with the way our schedules flipped and flopped. That was life on the road–always different from week to week. But Dad and Mom still believed in having a schedule. Eventually, my older sisters took over many of the duties of leading and instructing us younger siblings.
The night-time incident involving honey and chocolate cake came to mind the other day. This little slice of traveling life reminded me that life can often be tumultuous. And sometimes–before I know it–I find myself in the dark, the stickiness of the situation looming before me, the little catastrophes piling up until I am completely frustrated.
Those moments hit without warning, and if I am not careful, I find myself obsessing over the smallest inconveniences. Typically, they arrive in twos and threes. Taken into account one by one, they are small, insignificant.
Honey spilling on the floor.
Chocolate cake falling into dirty clothes.
Sweat and heat and fatigue.
But together? They can annoy and overwhelm and make me lose my focus.
When that happens, I need to take a deep breath, step away from the chaos, and remind myself of Who is in control of the journey. Even five minutes away from the chaos can calm my spirit and renew my mind.
Follow Mom’s lead, I tell myself. Just follow her lead.