Guard, Guide, and Direct

Most every weekday of the school year, I pass as many as six crossing guards. My three children attend three different schools, so this isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Still, I do spend at least a few minutes of our commute in awe of these men and women. [Note: I should say man and women due to the fact that only one of the six is male. My personal theory is that women make good crossing guards because we are excellent multi-taskers. For instance, I am—right now—simultaneously typing this blog post, cooking supper, and texting about carpools. Oh, double-X chromosome, is there anything you can’t do?!]


Since we see these same six people 180 days of the year, I begin to feel like I know them. For instance, I’ve created a backstory for the man in front of our elementary school. He has a New York-type accent and a pointy, white goatee. (true) I’ve decided he’s an independently wealthy, retired CEO who moved here from Silicon Valley to find some peace and quiet. He only does the crossing guard gig to get out of the house a couple of times a day. (fiction) He replaced a lady who worked nights, stopped traffic in the mornings, went home to sleep, and then returned in the afternoon (That part is not fictional. We got to know her as we walked to school. You can actually find out a lot about a person with just a couple of sentences a day for six or seven years).


One of the most famous crossing guards in Murfreesboro’s history has to be the lady who directs traffic on Memorial Boulevard. She wears costumes and/or holds props for all major holidays (including Veteran’s Day). Her movements are as smooth as a Japanese kabuki dancer. She seems oddly at home right in the middle of five lanes of busy traffic.


The lady who stands at the convergence of the elementary, middle, and high schools near us is the most cheerful crossing guard I’ve ever seen. At 7:45 in the morning, you’ll find her giving out two-handed waves as she walks to her spot. Looking at her beaming smiles, you’d think she was on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, instead of directing traffic on a cold, rainy Monday morning.


Which brings me to the weather…


Lately, we’ve had some very cold and icky mornings, especially for November. They can be seen suited up with bright, yellow raincoats, thick gloves, and rubber boots. In spite of their regulation outer garments, I know they’re freezing. And yet, these six community servants can always be found at their spot, on time, doing their job. It sounds obvious, right? They apply for the job, get trained, do their job, and get paid. But look at the job they do: they keep the traffic moving, they protect kids trying to cross the street, they intentionally put themselves in harm’s way for us.


I love to point out these six people to my kids. I want them to see that no matter what job they choose they should do it well. Like the smiling crossing guard, they can find joy in everyday chores. Like the graceful crossing guard, they should take pride in what they do. And like the crossing guard who—when directing traffic in front of the private school down the road mouths thank you to the driver who she stopped and is now allowing to drive again—they should always strive to be polite.


I also want them to see what it means to be a part of a community. We live out the phrase my grandfather used to say in all his prayers before supper. He would ask the Lord to “guard, guide, and direct”. If we can be God’s hands and do this for our fellow man (or woman), then maybe we can make it through this mess!


Earlier this week, someone told me I am the most well adjusted person he knows. To really appreciate this comment, it should be said this is an exceptionally wise person. If he weren’t a resident of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he’d probably live high in the Himalayan Mountains. People would climb the treacherous cliffs just to ask him deep questions about the meaning of life. Then, he would stroke his long, white beard thoughtfully and answer with something like, “Life is like macaroni and cheese…” and no one would understand his philosophical and enigmatic responses. This is why I started to wonder how I could seem so well adjusted—like I said, he’s a super smart dude…and I fooled him.


Kids of preachers and pastors (P.K.’s) are often skilled at making it look like we’ve got it all figured out. Even if no one ever tells you to get your act together because the members of your father’s congregation are looking at you, you can sense it. You sit on the front pew and feel the eyes boring in to your ponytail. You just know they’re watching to see if you fight with your sisters or get too many desserts at the Sunday night potluck dinner. After a while, it’s possible to forget what you really think or feel and only live in the expectations you’ve absorbed from that front pew.


But it’s not just for P.K.’s. Being truly authentic will always be a struggle for some of us. And now, with the advent of Facebook, it’s even harder. We’ve become professional image consultants and fact spinners. We’ll post parenting failures and cooking disasters but only to the extent we can control the story. We want to look fallible without looking like a total failure. It’s like the girl who said, “I know this is bad but I’ve never donated blood before. I feel horrible about it but you have to weigh more than 100 lbs.” Yeah, you feel really bad about being TOO SKINNY. That’s a like a backhanded compliment, but with opposite intentions.


Of course, it’s possible to be overly transparent. Status updates about eating your placenta or how your marriage is falling apart may be crossing the line. Mark Zuckerberg may think that belongs in my newsfeed but I beg to differ. Transparency is one thing. Ripping open your guts and showing us the contents of your large intestines is another.


So how do I strike the right balance to live a life of authenticity? How do I set aside what others think of me and just be honest? Does it involve swearing off mascara and never shaving my legs? Who knows. Maybe it’s different for everybody. What I do know is that I prefer to spend time with people who are honest about their flaws but not consumed by them. They are so busy being interested in others they don’t have time to focus on their own mess. Their mess is out there, not white-washed and swept under the rug, but there for a reason—to keep them humble and empathic.


I can’t say it any better than the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit:


“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’


‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.


‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’


‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’


‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”