I woke up recently above the very ground where I played “Kill the Guy With the Ball” during second and third grade recess time at St. Anne’s school.
Since those days in the 70’s, a priest residence was built on that ground, and I was staying in one of the first floor guest rooms. If I were to put my ear to the floor of that guest room, I bet I could hear faint echoes of young boys laughing and screaming and straining to put into play their budding masculinity.
But I didn’t put my ear to the floor. Instead, I listened to the early morning rain tapping the windows and the sound of cars spraying rain water in all directions. I guessed that these were cars of parents dropping their children off at school.
Indeed, as I peeked through the window shades, I saw that it was so. Then, beyond the drop-off zone, I saw my heroes for the day, two of them.
I was so taken by their appearance that I got dressed, opened the shades and sat down to watch these two children on opposite sides of the street. They were standing and still. If they had crimson jackets and tall bearskin hats, I could not have distinguished them for the Queen’s guards at Buckingham Palace.
Each about five feet tall, they wore yellow ponchos with hoods in full use. Instead of holding the guns of a palace guard, they each held, vertically, a six-foot pole with a foot-square plastic yellow flag lying wet against the top part of the pole. If the pole were extended horizontally, the flag would have dropped into place with its identifying words clearly seen: SAFETY PATROL.
I admired them instantly. I couldn’t tell because of their ponchos whether they were male or female. I could tell, however, that they were virtuous. If not standing at military attention, neither were they slouching or leaning on their poles.
Most cars noticed them and slowed respectfully, but some did not, and their spray hit the pant legs and shoes that were not protected by the yellow plastic. Either way, they simply stood at the ready. This crosswalk spanning Sixth Avenue was their territory to watch.
As the minutes passed, my admiration grew because, to my astonishment, not a single person, adult or child, walked across the street that day. Here were two of St. Anne’s finest, ready to shepherd to safety all who approached their path, and no one came. I suppose the kids who usually walked to school got rides that day because of the rain.
Whatever the reason, our yellow-poncho-clad guardians of Sixth Avenue stayed at their post until the bell rang, wet and cold for seemingly no reason. I wondered if they complained about that when they were inside. Honestly, I don’t think so. I had built up quite an image of them and was sure that their stoic virtue would not have allowed them to whine about a little water.
How often in life do I stand prepared to serve the next person who comes my way? And when no one comes and I’m left unused and unthanked, do I continue to stand at the ready? Or, do I grow bored, find something to complain about and seek my own comfort? I watched those children with such fascination because they were being how I want to be.
After the school bell rang, and with nothing else to watch outside, I walked out to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of juice. The man who was staying in the other guest room joined me shortly after. His first words were not “Good morning,” but rather, “Did you see those kids in the yellow ponchos?”
The Rev. Tom Krieg is pastor at St. James the Greater Catholic Church, Eau Claire.