Have you ever learned a new word and then you see it all the time? It’s the craziest thing. It seems like everyone has experienced it at one time or another.
It’s called the Reticular Activating System (RAS), and I stumbled upon it while I was doing research on gratitude. Now I see RAS everywhere! ( See what I did there?)
RAS is basically a filter in the brain that keeps us from being overwhelmed by all the information that we are bombarded with daily. Can you imagine trying to think through a problem and you are simultaneously aware of the cushion on your chair, the ticking of the clock, the temperature of the room and if there is or is not a breeze blowing, the shadow at the window when a bird flies by? Our brains typically filter out all but the thing we are most focused on. However, once we become aware of something new – like a new word – the filter allows it through, and that’s why we are suddenly seeing it everywhere.
In elementary school in Charlotte, kindergartners start school in shifts. The ones whose last names end in A - F go on Monday, G - L go Tuesday, M - T on Wednesday and so on. Then they all go back together on Friday. It’s an amazing system that allows them to ease into it, both teachers and students. They get to know each other on a smaller ratio of teacher : student.
For day one of kindergarten we put Madi on the bus that first morning. We videoed her stepping onto that great big yellow bus. I'm not sure there’s ever been a kid more excited to start school.
That afternoon, Paul and I were both at the bus stop. He was filming the kids as they tumbled out the door, all talking excitedly and then suddenly there were no more kids exiting. Madi didn’t get off. Where was she? Two other girls said she didn’t get on their bus.
She must be on another bus. There was a different bus, and if she were on that one and it stopped where she could see our house, she might get off but then she’d have to cross a very busy street by herself. We wouldn’t be there; someone might run the stopped bus’s sign, or she might get off at some stop and we wouldn’t know where she was. We had all kinds of worst case scenarios running through our heads.
Paul ran home and called the school, and I drove there at a speed that was slightly accelerated. The school couldn’t find her. After what seemed like hours, they found the bus and sent them to our stop. There was no filming this time. In our fear, we just kept staring at that bus. Madi hopped off and told us she got to ride all around Charlotte a lot, and she had had so much fun. Paul and I were near collapsing with relief as she skipped home ahead of us.
During the years that followed, I remember waving to bus drivers as they picked up or let off each day. I knew by sight when they were the regular or substitute driver. They were an important part of all of our lives. They were carrying precious cargo.
One day Madi asked me if I had the choice, would I rather drive a school bus or a garbage truck? GARBAGE TRUCK I shouted before she even finished the question. She was so surprised and perplexed by my reaction. But there’s not a snowball's chance I could drive a school bus without getting fired immediately. What a horrible job, and yet an absolutely crucial one.
School buses trigger excitement in some people, dread in others, and chaos for everyone. There are very few people unaffected.
This week has been spring break for most colleges, and Madi has been home. Somehow, my week between SAT sessions and her spring break lined up beautifully, and I’ve been off as well. Yesterday I was out and saw a line of yellow buses lined up at a stoplight and for a second, I thought “Oh, wow. There are still students riding buses and going to school in the city.“
For something that was such a big part of my life, it now barely even registered. Turns out RAS works in reverse as well!!