100,000 miles

As we were driving to a soccer tournament over the weekend, my husband and I witnessed a (sort of) significant milestone for our family minivan—we reached 100,000 miles. The lucky moment came while he was driving, so I filmed the clicking over from five-digits to six on the odometer for the sake of posterity.


In the more than five years we’ve been driving this particular vehicle, we’ve averaged somewhere around 50 miles a day. For people with a long commute to work, that may not seem like a lot, but it does make me stop and wonder if the destination has been worth the all of those miles.


There was once a servant who was given the task to take a long journey to find a wife for his master’s son. He traveled 500 miles (by camel, not Honda Odyssey), and when he got to the appointed place, the servant stopped for a drink of water at a well. He prayed, “Help me to accomplish the purpose of my journey. I will ask one of these young women for a drink and if she says, ‘Yes! And I will happily water your camels too!’ let her be the one. That is how I will know.”


Sure enough, a beautiful woman came by and graciously did just what he had prayed for. As she set about giving him a drink along with his camel, the servant watched closely without speaking, resolved to verify that God had made his journey a success. The servant returned with the woman to her home and retold the story of the well encounter to her family. They consented to putting her in the care of this servant, but they asked if she could stay at home for a week or so before heading off to get hitched to marry a man they were related to but had never met.


Though this seems like a reasonable request, the servant was already itching to get back on the road. He told them, “Please don’t stop me from going! Now that I know this mission has been a success, I have to get back to tell my master what’s happened.” (To read the full account of the Isaac/Rebekah family drama, start at Genesis 24 and grab the popcorn. Dallashas nothing on these ancient Bible families!)


At the end of a long road trip, the last thing I want to do is get back on my camel (or Honda Odyssey). I’m a little surprised by the servant’s response. Knowing the value placed on hospitality in ancient times, this might’ve seemed rude. I sense an anxiety in his words and actions, as if he was overwhelmed with the initial task of finding the perfect wife for his master’s favorite son. He repeats Abraham’s instructions several times, like I do when I’m walking to a different room so I won’t forget why I’m going there. (Put the towels in the dryer. Put the towels in the dryer.) He so much wants this journey to be a success, and he can’t wait to get back to prove that all those miles (and camels and gifts of jewelry and clothing) were worth it.


When I think back on the 100,000 miles we’ve put on our minivan, I think of trips to visit grandparents and trips to the beach and college tour visits and lotsof soccer practice. I think of quiet conversations with my kids when I get them one-on-one, and I think of God’s hand in keeping us safe. And most of all, I think of that blessed feeling of relief when I pull into the garage and I am home.


There’s plenty of talk about standardized testing these days. Do they make kids too stressed? Do we test enough? Too much? Are they an accurate gauge of a teacher’s performance? Should the testing dates be spread out more or consolidated into fewer days? My answer to this as a former teacher and a current parent is…I have no idea. What I bring to the table is a discussion of the plight of a testing proctor.


For several years, I’ve volunteered to be present in a classroom while these standardized tests are administered. This job is in equal parts necessary and redundant, super easy and painfully boring. The proctor’s main job is to exist. That’s it. Sure, I’m supposed to walk around the classroom, help pass out testing material, dispense the occasional tissue, but mostly I’m there to prove that everything is legitimate. Nobody is trying anything shady, not that they would.


I’m not supposed to look at my phone or read a book. My eyes should always be scanning these kids as they work their way through reading passages or solving math problems. As the room grows deathly quiet, I inevitably get sleepy, so I decide to get up and move around a bit. In my quietest sneakers, I walk up and down the rows of desks, glancing at their booklets without really focusing on anything, just making sure they’re on the correct section and there are no stray marks. (Curse you, you ruinous stray marks! Who knew a light swipe of a #2 pencil could bring on such doom!)


After a few days of this, my mind begins to adapt to this change of pace. Like a prisoner in dark, solitary confinement, I look for anything to amuse myself: world maps and inspirational posters. I start cataloging facts, such as how many kids are left-handed and how many wear glasses and whose constant sniffing leads me to believe he suffers from pollen allergies and would benefit from a morning dose of Claritin.


Though I don’t know these kids, I begin to feel that I do. My heart presses me to wonder about them and root for them and pray for them. I try to give a reassuring smile to each student who might happen to look at me, hoping a friendly expression is encouraging.


Being a testing proctor isn’t a difficult job, but it does require a deceleration, a slowing down of productivity, a temporary devotion to almost monastic pursuits. I become jealous of the classroom teachers when they pull out the Clorox wipes and busy themselves with wiping down counters. At least they have something to do. I crave that kind of useful service.


Unrelated to the buzz you usually find around the debate about standardized testing, this annual activity is a reminder for me to be observant. I often forget how powerful the act of just watching can be. Noticing little things about people I barely know—like who has to bounce his leg up and down continuously to stay focused and who can’t stand when someone near her is bouncing his leg up and down—is like a window into their personalities. These observations are the beginning of understanding. To quote Sherlock Holmes, fiction’s keenest observer: “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” I seek to do both.