I saw a student on the bus last night, which ordinarily is some cause for awkwardness. Many students aren’t sure whether to bow or wave or pretend they don’t see me while fervently hoping I don’t see them and wondering “Why, O God, why don’t teachers stay in school where they belong?” Luckily this is one of my good students—outgoing, sweet, eager, smart—and as soon as he got off the phone he said hello. We chatted pleasantly the entire ride home.
“So, what does your father do?” I asked at one point. We’re on the Talking about Family unit, so it's on the mind.
This boy, Peter Seong, is a theology major taking extra English classes because he wants to be a missionary. He’s my golden boy of that class, geeky-looking behind his glasses, sitting up straight and answering every question in class, smiling his kind of goofy smile. He runs and makes copies for me when I forget to bring enough. I assumed his father and all of his ancestors had been pastors.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Maybe he misunderstood the question. Maybe he didn’t know how to say his father's job. In one class I had a student tell me his parents were “printers” as if carrying on some kind of Gutenberg tradition.
“I come from a broken home,” he explained, interrupting my confusion. “My parents separated when I was sixteen.”
“I see." I silently gave him a vocabulary point. “So what does your mother do?”
“I don’t know. I live with my grandmother.” The bus chugged up Yeongdo’s mountain and Peter had to find his grip on his handholds again. “It’s okay.”
“Do you have any siblings?” I asked. Why doesn’t one of your parents take care of you? I wanted to ask.
“Yes. I have one sister. She’s older than me. She’s 31.”
“Does she live with you? Or…?”
“She is getting married next week! Actually she was not a believer, but her fiancé’s whole family is Christian, so now she is!” He grins at me—beaming like the world is too small for joy.
Maybe it is.
“So. . . how did you become a Christian?” I asked. How do you smile so much? I wanted to ask. What's the secret?
“Actually, I wanted to die,” he explained. The bus chugged and jolted up a corner. Skinny Peter settled into his stance and held firm. “I went to a church. Just me. We were worshiping and God told to me—just to me—” He pointed to his heart. “He speak, ‘I love you. I love you always and I forgive you.’ I was weeping and I said, “Yes,” and . . .that is why I had to forgive my parents for separating. Oh!”
He had to jump off the bus at his stop, but not before waving a cheery goodbye. Aside from his confusion with say, speak, and tell, Peter had completely surprised me. How could I have predicted abandonment and estrangement in his goofy smile, his sweet eagerness to please?
(And about the title: like I could help it.)
 A rarity; it’s a long bus ride.