From the Driver’s Side Window
Few things bring teachers more joy than an in-service day. They call them professional development days now. It’s not the meetings we enjoy really. We actually abhor those. There are few things worse than people with no classroom experience being paid big bucks to tell us how to do our job and re-invent the wheel. Usually it goes like this, we are ushered into an auditorium or school cafeteria, forced to take part in an icebreaker activity, and made to watch a motivational video. Then, there is a power point with about a hundred slides and they read it to us! Finally, we break up in groups to analyze data… for hours!
It’s the extended lunch away from campus we love. We get to go anywhere we want! A place that serves alcohol is not a good idea, but it’s amazing how excited we get at the mention of a buffet. A chance to actually enjoy a midday meal at our leisure with co-worker friends is the real draw. We might even order dessert and refills on tea.
Anyone who is or has been a teacher knows that the twenty-seven minutes, on average, you are given every day to gulp down a tuna sandwich or last night’s lasagna left-overs is just not enough time. This is especially true when you have run out of copies of a worksheet and the copier needs paper! Maybe you get a phone call. Your baby sitter has cancelled for tomorrow. You’ll figure that out later. Perhaps you need to turn in a survey to the front office secretary, or you need to seek out a tech savvy colleague because your printer is acting up again.
Let’s not even talk about a restroom break. Teachers have super-hero bladders. It’s in our genetics. Clearly stated in the legendary teacher handbook, and in your hire contract there is a clause that reads something like this, “The teacher must never, ever, even on pain of death, leave while students are in the classroom or during passing periods when she is supposed to be on duty guarding the hallway for all manner of danger and disruption.”
Well, it says something like that. If you have “C” lunch and seventh period conference, you are out of luck.
Suffice it to say, a real lunch hour if definitely a treat.
On this particular day, we stuffed ourselves at a Chinese buffet, savored every bite and every moment. Suddenly, someone noticed it was 12:50. We had ten minutes to get back to school and be back in our uncomfortable seats. I had volunteered to drive as my van held more. So, in my haste, I might have exceeded a few speed limits along the way and just maybe slipped through one yellow light.
Oh my goodness! A train! Like students who had slipped away from campus without permission and feared a tardy slip, we desperately wondered if we should back up and take an alternate route. Alas, a line of cars had already formed behind us. We were going to have to wait.
I glanced to my left where vacant field had been razed and yet another office building was under construction. Dust rose from the ground and filled the air. The August sun made a rainbow mirage near the ground. It was blazing hot, furnace hot, blistering hot. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The air was heavy and stifling.
And then I saw them. Six men in long-sleeved chambray shirts and dirty blue jeans. They were seated on the ground, huddled together in the only shade available, that made by an enormous flatbed truck parked on the construction site. Sweat stains marked their armpits and collars. Tired legs and heavy work boots stretched out in front of them, construction hats lay discarded beside them. Each man had a wet cloth draped around his shoulders. Their heads were soaked with sweat, faces weathered by too many days outside in the heat, rain and cold.
One of them was young, probably still in his teens. Another was old, wrinkled and gray-haired. The others looked to be middle aged. I wondered about each of them. Did the young one have a sweetheart, a wife? Was this a summer job and might I see him when school started in a couple of days? Did he like to dance, play baseball or video games? Who were these men to him? The one to his right could have been his brother. Their smiles were the same.
I wondered if the gray-haired man was a grandfather. Did he read to his grandsons and had he taught them to make things with their hands like his grandfather had taught him? Had he told them how important it was to mind their manners, always tell the truth and pray? And could anyone possibly know how much he loved them?
Though I felt like an intruder peering not so surreptitiously in on these men’s few minutes of freedom from their labors, I couldn’t help myself. They ate sandwiches from brown paper bags and shared a large bag of chips. There was a cooler from which they refilled their cups with gallons of water and drank thirstily.
What I noticed most about these men though, was the laughter that came in bursts followed by elbows, nudges, pushes and slaps on the back. They talked constantly, taking part in what seemed to be a playful banter. I couldn’t hear what was said. The train and noise from the machinery muted their voices. I didn’t need to know what was being said. These men were friends, maybe family. They had worked hard all morning and now they were taking a break.
Suddenly, a whistle blew above the noise and the dusty scene quickly dissipated. They were gone, these players on an impromptu stage.
“Clang! Clang! Clang!” Up went the arms of the railroad crossing. A green light and we were in motion.
What God taught me that day from the driver’s side window was PERSPECTIVE.