Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

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Riding the Bus with My Sister: 36. January: Beyond the Limits of the Sky Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the present, Rachel drives to Beth’s yearly care planning meeting. She leaves early so that she can take her time on the way, as she passes all the places she visited during her year riding the buses. She sees Jesse on his bike, and they stop to chat in a parking lot. Jesse is training for several big summer races, and he reports that Beth is happier after undoing her makeover. Rachel offers to give Jesse some of the photos that Olivia took, but Jesse says no—pictures of Beth always remind him of when Beth first moved into her apartment and was terribly lonely. “You’re a good man,” says Rachel, and Jesse replies that he tries his best in life. They say goodbye, and Rachel drives downtown.
Rachel’s year will end where it began: at the annual meeting where Beth and her aides reflect on the year behind them and plan for the year ahead. Knowing that it’s her last scheduled visit to Beth, Rachel also takes the time to reflect on the people she has met, the places she has seen, and the troubles that she has overcome in the last year. Clearly, she has grown from her experience even more than Beth has. And Jesse—the other most important figure in Beth’s life—is a fitting person for her to meet first. While Beth now lives autonomously and makes her own decisions, Rachel still very much feels like she’s passing responsibility for Beth’s safety and happiness into Jesse’s hands—and also that there’s perhaps nobody better suited for the job.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Rachel realizes that she’s never seen Beth’s melancholy side—but Jesse clearly has. Yet it makes sense that Beth would hide this from her big sister. After all, sisterhood both unites and divides them. As she drives through downtown, Rachel remembers all the times that she has stopped with Beth there—and then she sees Beth at the bus stop. Rachel rolls down her window, but Beth is too busy singing and dancing to her radio to even notice.
Rachel’s reflections on Beth’s personality again remind her that no matter how much she loves and wants to help Beth, Beth’s fate is ultimately in her own hands. After all, during her year of visits, Rachel has really only briefly dropped into Beth’s independent, autonomous life. Beth’s wild song and dance represent this independence, and Rachel is both disillusioned and relieved to see that Beth simply doesn’t need her.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
The meeting is in Beth’s apartment, and Vera is absent because she recently had a stroke. Rachel worries about what will happen to Vera—and what will happen to Beth once her caregivers move on or retire. Rachel decides that, between herself and the bus drivers, they’ll manage to take care of Beth. Then, she starts to wonder what will happen if she dies before Beth. She doesn’t know if someone else in the family will be willing and able to take over. Even if there’s nobody left at all, Rachel decides, Beth will adjust—like she always has, her whole life.
While Beth can clearly flourish without Rachel around, she still needs a community and support services in order to live a full, autonomous life. As Rachel points out here, these services aren’t a one-and-done accomplishment—instead, they require a continuous investment of time and public resources over people’s lifetimes. This is another reason that public policy is so crucial to determining whether people with disabilities manage to fulfill their potential.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
The meeting covers Beth’s finances and health, and this makes Rachel start worrying again. Beth is taking even worse care of herself than she did before. For instance, she doesn’t want to pick up prescriptions, and she forgets to use her eyedrops. Throughout the whole meeting, Beth glances at the clock—she’s eager to get back to the buses. Rachel wonders if Beth’s “love of life” is the only thing that will ever convince her to care for her health. Meanwhile, the caregivers debate how much they can control Beth’s spending while preserving her right to self-determination. None of them fully knows how to apply the rules, and Rachel admits that she also still struggles with the idea of self-determination.
Rachel still agrees with self-determination in theory, but even after spending a whole year working Beth and her care team, she continues to worry about the principle in practice. Since Beth struggles to understand the connection between her actions today and her health in the future, she ends up sacrificing her health (and her future autonomy) for the sake of her whims in the present. Of course, Beth’s team also understands this: they emphasize that self-determination is a guiding norm, not a formula. Self-determination doesn’t create a pre-approved list of acceptable decisions and behaviors for people like Beth—instead, Beth’s team has to apply the principle to each individual situation.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
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The meeting ends just like the year before: Beth hopes to visit Disney World with Jesse and see her niece and nephew, but she isn’t interested in classes, organizations, or a job. Beth gets up and ends the meeting; she has to catch Melanie’s bus. Everyone takes the elevator downstairs, and Rachel thanks Beth’s caregivers.
The end of Beth’s meeting makes it even clearer that regardless of Rachel’s worries, Beth will continue to live her own happy, autonomous, self-determined life. Beth’s time with Rachel has certainly helped her decide to try to change some things about her life, but her vocation just isn’t one of them.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Rachel follows Beth to the curb and asks whose bus they’re going to ride, but Beth tells her that her year of riding is over. Rachel asks if Beth doesn’t want her to ride, and as usual, Beth replies, “I don’t kno-oh.” Rachel feels a complicated mix of emotions. Then, Melanie’s bus approaches. Beth invites Rachel to join her, but Rachel decides not to. Beth boards and tells Rachel, “You’re wee-ard.” Rachel replies, “so are you,” and then the bus leaves. Rachel stands on the corner, watching it drive into the distance.
Beth and Rachel both know that it’s time for them to separate, but both also want to continue riding together. This shows that despite all their conflicts and frustrations, they have successfully rebuilt their relationship and reached a place of mutual understanding. When they both point out the other’s weirdness, they are accepting that some of their differences might never be reconciled. But they’re also affirming that they respect each other’s right to make their own decisions in life, even if they don’t necessarily understand these decisions.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Then, Rachel gets into her own car and drives to Rick’s house. He’s home, and he’s delighted to see her. They drive around the city and talk for hours, laughing and enjoying themselves. In the afternoon, he takes her up to the top of a mountain, where they get an expansive view over the whole city. In the distance, Rachel sees several buses driving through the streets. She remarks that each one contains its own miniature world, but they’re all connected together.
Rachel’s visit to Rick puts both a literal and a symbolic end to her year of visiting Beth—thus, in this closing scene, Rachel and Beth follow their own separate paths forward in life. But Rachel doesn’t just go back to her old, lonely life as a writer—instead, she takes the lessons she has learned from her time with Beth with her. Indeed, the very fact that she chooses to see Rick shows that she has changed. Similarly, her remark about the endless network of miniature worlds in the city shows how her time with Beth has taught her to see the beauty, value, and dignity hidden in people’s everyday lives—even in places as mundane and unexpected as public buses.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
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