The Mackinaw Bridge spans five miles and connects two peoples. Above the bridge are the Yoopers, small town people who survive winters far worse than any felt in Detroit. And those of us below the bridge recieve the most affectionate of monikers; trolls.
I lived among the Yoopers for a season of life. I was not of them, but I was among them for 3 years of my boyhood. It was in Upper Peninsual of Michigan where I learned to ride a bike. I made my first dollar delivering papers, and sought out adventures every summer from morning till night.
In school I was an outsider. I made some colossal first week mistakes that would haunt me my entire career, so I was looking for some way to get past all that. I was looking for a place to belong. That’s when the call went out for safety patrol.
Safety Patrol was a volunteer club before and after school. You signed up, underwent some training, and upon “graduation” you were given the coolest orange belt a little kid could ever want. It crossed diagnal across the front of your chest like the ammunition shells that Rambo wore. That piece connected to a belt that wrapped around your waist. Once armed with your yellow sash you were given a corner to keep safe.
Our little town was quite poor, and many of us kids were on our own. Many kids walked to elementary school, and they had to cross a few busy roads to get there. Our job was to stand on these corners and to stop traffic so these students could cross safely.
I had to be there early so that I was in place when the first kids started coming to school. It was earlier than the bus ran, so I had to walk the 2 miles to school. Upon arriving, I would head to the teacher’s lounge where I would put my backpack down, suit up, and then head back out to man my corner.
I never missed. Even in the fierce winters of the Upper Peninsula, I would put on snow pants and my face mask and make the long walk to school. I would put the yellow sash over my big coat and I would stand my post. There were some cold mornings where only two or three kids would walk to school. Still I was there. And after my shift was over, there would be hot cocoa waiting for us in the teacher’s lounge.
Being on safety patrol didn’t make me cool. Often I would find myself the butt of jokes and talked about poorly. Some of the kids didn’t even wait for me to clear the way. My memory is fuzzy, but I remember an accident. There was some kid who never listened. He darted out into the road past my outstretched arms. The car never even saw him coming. The car slammed on its brakes as soon as it hit the boy. It skidded to a stop and his little body went sliding down the snow covered street. I watched as he was put into a car and taken to the hospital. It was a terrible thing to witness, and after that I became more adamant about holding the kids back. I stopped caring if they were annoyed by the waiting or made fun of me for doing my job. Being the butt of a joke was worth it if no more kids got hit.
Even in the midst of an awful home situation, few friends at school, and far from all family, I found great satisfaction in both putting on and taking off my sash every day. That sense of purpose was strong. Finding a sense of purpose gave me the will to keep fighting. To keep putting one foot in front of another.
As a little boy that purpose could be small. But as I grew that need for a reason was still there. Very quickly I found pleasure and success were fleeting; an attempt at bottling the wind. The allure of intoxication lost its power when I realized how heavy those chains were. So I wandered, and with Billy Joel I sang, “I’m tired and I don’t want to walk anymore.”
But in my wandering I was found. The God of heaven spoke, and somehow it got through. I cried out to a God I had never known, and He called me His own. He welcomed me into His family. Along with the love, the healing, and the joy came something else. There came a purpose. A reason. Like David said before running down a hill against a foe he could never defeat, “Is there not a cause?” There is a cause. There is a reason. There is a purpose. It’s not just about me and mine. It’s about Him and His.
Those of us who have been made new in Christ must go out and stand on our corners. We have to keep loving and serving those around us. Some days, not many people come by. Some days people don’t listen and run into traffic, and we have to watch the horror it brings. It might be cold. It might be thankless. But I hear when it’s all over, there is hot chocolate waiting.