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How do we know when it’s safe to cross?

photo-001I was driving in DC this week. I don’t recommend it. Big cities and cars don’t mix well; take the mass transport. Anyway, I was amused at the looks on the faces of pedestrians as I approached the intersections. They stared at me with their feet firmly planted on the sidewalk several feet from the asphalt. Safe. Secure. Waiting for the light to turn. Even then the wise pedestrian checks both ways and says a prayer. You never know what might happen when you venture into the intersection. It’s every man for himself out there. Cross at your own risk.

That is, unless you’re in Charlottesville. In UVA-land, college town USA, you don’t catch the eye of the oncoming driver to see if it’s safe to cross. You don’t even bother looking right or left, you don’t even pause before stepping out into the intersection. You just step. Because the drivers in Charlottesville stop for pedestrians waiting to cross. It’s just what they do. Everyone knows it…except for out-of-towners.

Now I, having learned to drive in DC and the surrounding suburbs, admit that there was a significant squealing of wheels and screeching of tires, not to mention angry glower from the pedestrian, the first time I failed to notice his intention to cross and then step out RIGHT IN FRONT of my car.

Isn’t it odd? I was always taught to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk. But I was also taught to look both ways. Because intersections are dangerous places. There is nothing preventing injury once I step out into traffic. My safety is not assured, neither by law nor by practice. I must decide when it seems safe to cross and then trust that the driver sees me, sees the red light or decides to yield to me. It may be a life or death decision.

In DC, they don’t risk it.

In Charlottesville, they presume it.

In life, we do it all day long. Come to a hundred intersections and weigh the odds that we can get across safely. Some of us are cautious, waiting for the green and several others to begin to cross before we venture forth. Some of us are bold, crossing even before the light changes, hurrying to what won’t wait on the other side. Some of us, perhaps most of us, look both ways and wait for the signal it’s safe to cross.

Dear Ian, you saw the safe sign yesterday at 2:38pm. You crossed from this side to the other. I expect you didn’t walk but rather danced and sang all the way into the Loving arms that received you. Had I better hearing I am sure I would have heard the heavenly accompaniment.

No more pain. No more suffering. No more intersections. Just Peace.

Ironing out the wrinkles

I know it’s old fashioned, but I iron. That’s not nearly as old fashioned as the linen napkins I just finished ironing. The Thanksgiving napkins. We’ll probably use them for Christmas, too. They’re special occasion napkins.

I realized as I was ironing that I love those linen napkins. They’re each monogrammed with a script “R” in one corner because they belonged to my paternal grandmother before they came to be mine. I couldn’t see this until I ironed them.  And as I ironed I wondered about where these linens had been, who had used them before, on what family occasions, whose lips had been wiped on this very fabric? (Okay – the last is going a bit too far.) But there was history here in my hands. At first, stiff and crinkled and then supple and smoothed. It became important then to fold them with the “R” showing.

This became a devotional moment for me. The connection with my ancestors, yes, but also the smoothing. The act of seeing my effort, small though it was, take something uninviting and turn it into something welcomed. And isn’t it like God in these moments to share a little secret with us? Provide a little illumination that adds depth and meaning and value.

Those wrinkles, the product of washing and letting air dry, reminded me so of the messiness of my mind. (Now it occurs to me they are actually a bit like the convoluted gray matter itself – ah, the anatomist in me still lives!)  How chaotic it is on the inside, firing one idea and then another, until they are so entangled that I can’t hope to capture them all. But here I was, taking time to do something that could wait, that could even go without doing, and it became a metaphor for the process that untangles and smooths.

I know from experience that if I wait just a bit and go about my chores and activities which don’t require a lot of figuring out, the firecrackers of thoughts will settle into their places, each connecting with the others into one big thought meant for the moment. Perhaps the whole day.

Key, for me, is clearing away the distracting chaos on the outside – which so temptingly calls to the chaos on the inside, “Come play. Come play. We will have fun.” – to honor the message in the moment. And perhaps to write it or share it. That’s fun.

Then I can go out and play.

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