When I couldn’t grasp things as a kid I might have dreamed about them in order to sort them out. I remember dreaming worst-case scenarios, playing them out in my head and managing to survive. One dream I remember as a young kid had an endless line of cars streaming between me on one side of the street and my home where I needed to go. All I remember in the dream is jumping ahead in time and finding myself home with my dad telling me it would be alright.
My young mind went though all kinds of “what if?” questions. In later elementary school I walked home most days past the crossing guards at the corners outside the school. The captain, an upper classman, would blow a whistle and two other kids would lower their signs, round stop signs at the end of long poles that extended out into the crosswalk. When the students were done crossing the captain would blow twice from the whistle and the guards would raise their signs. I remember hearing the strong, authoritative voice of a crossing guard once ordering me to stop before I crossed the street so he could allow traffic to pass. It didn’t matter to me that these were elementary school kids not much older than me. To me, they held astounding strength and ability. They could stop traffic on the main street in my town. Where I had always been told that there was danger and I had dreamed of being stranded, these kids were Moses parting The Red Sea. Nothing seemed stronger than them. But not even my anxious little mind could have imagined the showdown I witnessed that one afternoon.
It felt cool and the shadows were long. It was probably the end of another day that I had sat in the classroom trying to absorb information I hoped I would need someday. I may still remember facts and information from the classroom that day or I may not. It was after school, walking home that I have not forgotten. I didn’t need to cross the street where the crossing guards were working. I walked by, alone as usual and glanced at the kids with their orange safety vests, yellow helmets and stop signs at the end of long poles. The kids were holding the poles extended into the crosswalk and a crowd of kids was moving in the crosswalk. Then I heard it. From my right came the unmistakable wail of the ambulance siren. The ambulance was a converted Chevy van decked out with red flashing lights, so cool it was one of my dream vehicles. Everybody got out of its way and it could run red lights. And the thought raced in my mind: Why didn't I ever consider this? Of course this has to happen. The immovable crossing guards would have to someday stand and face this, the unstoppable ambulance.
The kids in the crosswalk ran to the curb like a wave slapping the shore. The siren grew louder and I watched in astonishment as the two crossing guards actually held their signs down in the crosswalk still and looked down in the direction of the approaching emergency vehicle. It may have been only a second or two, but in my young life, these two seconds were where time stopped. And here is where I have a clear picture in my mind of two crossing guards holding their signs, the long afternoon shadows, and in this stopped time, there is the growing sound of an approaching ambulance.
Suddenly time started again with the two quick blasts of the captain’s whistle. The two guards yanked their signs up and it seemed that at the same instant, the ambulance appeared and drove through. Perhaps it had won this showdown. But the crossing guards had held out to the very end and gone with as much strength and dignity as possible.
It was all I could tell my mom about when I got home that day. I never considered for a moment that the ambulance driver would have slowed down in a school zone and not hit any children.
In my young mind there was never any compromise. Whoever was stronger would always triumph. And in the world the debate seems timeless. Generations ago, who was stronger, Tarzan or Flash Gordon? The Axis or the Allies? The reds or the rest of the world? Nowadays I still see it. Gandalf or Dumbledore? Them or us? My cat or the praying mantis?
And the big question, will there ever be an epic struggle and will we ever have to find out?
As a child, the biggest fear I had was not being able to achieve the safety of home. The crossing guards were there, but even their work could be disrupted, I saw. And I wonder how much of the most important struggles I fret about all come down to just that. The current events of the world that everyone seems to be most frightened over seem to be the ones that would deny someone a safe place. I wonder... if that is what we are all really afraid of, what can be done to settle the struggles before they become so epic? Maybe that sounds like the mind of a young child asking who is still impressed with flashing lights and sirens. I sometimes wish the world could be that simple.