The Crossing Guard

Rolls-in-the-round

Mixed: 10 am

Molded: noon

Baked: 12:45

This lent I’m trying to be more intent about giving to folks who really need food, or to others with whom I’m:

  • mad at
  • disgusted with
  • bothered by

I can really think of only two people in this town who fit this list, and so far I’ve already tried, but failed, at giving one woman a homemade and happy loaf of bread. But today?

Success!

There are two crossing guards in my neighborhood. One brings candy for the students, she puts up balloons, and waves at every car, every child and parent who passes her by. Her smile is so genuine and her demeanor so giving that you just love her, even when you’re in a hurry and she’s standing there with that STOP sign allowing ten minutes worth of kids troop by.

The other crossing guard is different. She wears bright pink lipstick and sits in her chair, a bit slumped over and –this is the thing–she tries to be like Crossing Guard Number One. She waves at all the cars, but it looks like it hurts her, like it’s a chore, as though she wouldn’t get paid if she didn’t move that hand back and forth at you… I’ve deduced that she’s trying to be something she’s not, and that bothers me.

I drive her road almost every day and have started little sarcastic conversations in my head about her. Nice wave, lady. Put a little umph into it, would you?

I recognized this in myself not so long ago when I actually said something aloud and my kids were listening. They picked up on it, (of course!!!) and I passed on my negative thoughts about this poor woman that I don’t even know.

In order to begin to heal my mean heart and change my thoughts I thought it time to bring her bread.

Today I found her bundled under rain gear, holding an umbrella with little doggies on it, her striped knit gloves on, her bright pink lipstick shimmering–rain falling all around.

“I knew you’d be out here in the rain,” I said with a smile, handing her a bag. “I made some extra bread today and want you to have it.”

“Why thanks, Sweetheart!” she said. “Now get out of this rain–you’re getting soaked!” She flashed me a genuine grin and waved her hand at me to move toward the car. “Thank you!” she yelled again.

Just a few words, a quick exchange, along with a look right into her eyes, and in a flash I loved her. I drove away and she had her nose in the bag, breathing the smell of warmth and prayers.

The mind is judgmental in everything it does. To demonstrate this point, I often recommend an exercise that consists in taking notice of people (although not in such a way as to make them feel uncomfortable). The catch is to notice people without mentally labeling them in any way. Sit quietly at an airport or a bus terminal and notice people without giving them any labels… As we walk down a crowded street, those people we notice are labeled one by one, and often not in the most flattering manner… The purpose of the exercise is to get to a point where we can notice a person without giving him or her a label. At that point we can begin to experience true compassion…

After reading those words several months ago in Archimandrite Meletios Webber’s book, Bread and Water, Wine and Oil, I’ve watched my mind seek to give labels to almost everyone I encounter. It’s hard work keeping my mind neutral, trying not to categorize people in unflattering ways.

Do you struggle with this too?

Anyway, the Law of Giving, which seems to always find the good and the hungry and just the perfect time, reigned supreme yet again.

And next time I’ll ask her her name. Why didn’t I ask her her name?!

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10 thoughts on “The Crossing Guard

  1. My mother is good at asking names. Your last sentence was so me!

    I remember when my mother sat down with our bishop when he took us to lunch after my husband’s ordination to the priesthood. She just about had his life story in five minutes: how many brothers and sisters he has, where he grew up, how/why he became a bishop, why he was ordering a cheeseburger instead of Greek food… All I could think of is, “How does she do that? How come I can’t come up with questions like that and just *ask* them?” (She’s just *really* interested in people and finding out all about them.)

  2. Oh, I LOVE that quote–thank you! And I love that you gave that woman bread. I’ve had similar experience and it is such a relief to get rid of those negative thoughts. You are an inspiration!

  3. That’s a wonderful quote, and a great story about your gift to the crossing guard. Yes, I do struggle with not labelling people in my mind. I try to apply one label only: Child of God!

  4. Here’s another good one: “Do not confuse man -this image of God – with the evil which is in him, because evil is only his accidental misfortune, a sickness, a devil’s dream; but man’s essence – the image of God – is always there.” -St. John of Kronstadt

  5. I always love getting one of your lovely loaves, Jane, but of course I’m hoping I DON’T get one during Lent. 😉

    The quote you shared from Archimandrite Meletios Webber’s book made me practically fall out of my chair when I read it a week ago. I have recently been aware of the way I judge and label people I see–everywhere–and it has horrified me. Reading his words were a comfort of sorts, realizing that I’m not the only one practicing this ugly mental habit. Now comes the hard work–offering those thoughts to God and letting them go by without latching on for a ride.

    Let’s pray for each other as we journey through Lent, that God will free us to truly have love and compassion for each and every face we see.

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