Monday, July 12, 2010

Saying "I Need"

Have you ever noticed a pedestrian crosswalk? Yellow or brightly colored lines painted between two corners where pedestrians can safely cross the street. Now, as you know, motorists are supposed to stop and allow a pedestrian to cross. Note, there are no barriers, no stop signs or anything to keep a motorist from zooming through the crosswalk. Just two brightly colored (assuming they are not too weathered) lines painted in the asphalt. That’s it. You are supposed to notice and yield. The pedestrian is supposed to feel safe.

This morning I saw one such pedestrian, an elderly gentleman, at the edge of the crosswalk waiting for cars to stop. I did. He waved quite the friendly wave and stepped into the crosswalk. To my horror, I saw an oncoming car that had a neon aura that screamed the driver was not paying attention. Those yellow lines were not going to protect the gentleman who was waving at me. I honked my horn. He looked at me startled and confused. It had been a most friendly wave. I honked again and he turned and saw the oncoming car and stepped back towards mine. No, the oncoming driver did not stop. Yes, the elderly gentleman was safe. He nodded his head and finished crossing the street. Me? I blocked traffic for a bit as I tried to find my wits.

So, what do crosswalks and the title of this posting “Saying I Need” have in common? When I say “I need” I step into the crosswalk with nothing to protect me but the symbolism of a human need made visible. I step out. I trust that I will not be blindsided by life’s oncoming traffic that does not notice I have made myself totally vulnerable. I trust the visible expression, simple lines, simple words will be enough. And if I must keep my head on a swivel, every time I say “I need” will I no longer let you know? Will it just be easier to remain silent than to take the risk or exert that much effort?

I have noticed that when groups are using a crosswalk the odds increase that oncoming traffic will stop. The old safety in numbers rule I guess. But could that be the lesson of the crosswalk? Could it be that the more we learn to say “I need” and gather in the crosswalk together, the better our odds that our needs, our humanity, our vulnerability will be safe?

Some crossings, yes, we will have to go alone, there are no crosswalks. But could it be that for the greater part of our journeys, the comfort and safety others can provide, as they share their own vulnerabilities and struggles, can foster a similar boldness in us? One could even take this image to the extreme. Perhaps, if we gather enough sojourners willing to share their stories and needs, maybe, all of us will walk and not have to worry about oncoming traffic and drivers too busy to notice another human being.