We drive a nine ton old used school bus that has a second school bus flipped over and welded to the top of it. Moreover, the engine has been jerry rigged over the past five years to run on cleaned used veggie oil. The under side of the bus looks like the capillary system with indiscriminate tubes and wires running every which way. Despite the fact that JD, the mastermind behind the hodgepodge veggie oil I system, confidently assured me that the bus is in the best shape it has ever been, it would be an understatement to say I was hesitant about embarking on the first leg of our cross country journey. After all, someone entrusted me, a 23 year old geology student who’s only mechanical training is tinkering with his father in the garage and maintenaceing seismometers in rural Africa. There is a lot that could go wrong and when it does, it is not necessarily clear what needs fixing.
After a week of living and breathing the ins and outs of the bus while living with JD and his wife Elizabeth, I was feeling more and more comfortable operating and maintaining the bus systems. During our time in Denver, even after the program started, when things went wrong, JD was always around to come help me figure it out. JD taught me everything he knew about the bus, but we were off for Kansas and for the first time, I was on my own. It was on the onset of this leg that I truly connected to the feelings of bilbo and company when Gandolf tells them he will not be accompanying them through the Mirkwood. It was not that their task was ever easy in the first place, but rather that the sheer fact that Gandolf was by their side made it seem like it was at least possible. In his absence, they came to the full realization that they have only each other to rely and there will be no magical savior. This only illuminated the true stature of their task at hand. Without JD, I too suddenly understood how much “danger” I was in.
The trip started swimmingly. We descended out of the mountains and on to the rolling hills of middle America. We were straight cruseing, when I started feeling that I had no power. No matter how much “gas” I gave it, the only way I could get above 45 was if we were going down hill. I calmly started going through my check list. The gauges were fine, the temp was fine, we had plenty of oil, and as i crossed each subsequent item off the list, my anxiousness grew. Thoughts like, “What if I don’t know how to fix it?” started to take root. Finally I decided that I had to pull over. I was going to change the veggie filter and while it was draining, maybe get mincha in with a little extra prayer for the well being of the bus.
Just in case there was some magical cure that JD could afford me over the telephone, I sent him a text that read something like this, “How many miles should I get on a filter? Not getting so much power so I pulled off to change it. Think that was a good idea?” As I paced around trying to keep my composure and make the gang think I knew exactly what I was doing, a car pulled up and honked at us. “Oh great” I thought to myself, “just what I need while I’m stressed and trying to figure this out, a car full of over eager hicks with a ton of questions about our crazy bus.” Yet it seems that similar to Hogwarts, the Topsy Turvy bus too operates under the rule that help will always come to those who ask. For in the that car was none other than JD and Elizabeth on a road trip to spend the Fourth of July with their family in Kansas. He was like Elijah in the Gemara in brahot, appearing randomly on the side of the road to protect a traveller while he was engrossed in prayer. Like Gandolf, returning at the last minute to the give aid. I was immediately filled with a rush of confidence (and later reassured by JD) that all of my decisions thus far had been correct and that the unsurmountable task before me became merely routine.
Sometimes it is not knowledge or ability that we lack, but rather the courage and confidence to act as we know we should. As we continue across the country, I am hopeful we can give people the knowledge and ability to look at, live, and interact with the world around us in a more sustainable, hey, even topsy turvy manner. While it will be easy for them to think this way while staring at our fantastic upside down bus, I hope even more — that we can instill in them the courage and confidence to continue doing so as a way of life that will continue long after we have rolled away.