School starts in my town this week and the crossing guard will return. The usual hassles return as well -- more traffic and having to wait for what seems like forever while a small child adjusts a backpack or reties a shoe in the middle of the crosswalk.
The crossing guard will wait too. He will nod at the child and then fiercely shove his sign at every car approaching the intersection. In my town, the crossing guard is an old man just over five feet tall. He wears the usual neon bright clothing and because he's not that tall, he holds his stop sign high above his head to make certain everyone sees it.
No one flies past his sign -- no one gets to be too busy, too late, too important, too rich or too poor. We all stop and wait together.
My first response when I see this man is usually, "Oh no, there's the crossing guard, please don't make me stop, don't make me stop. I don't want to wait. I'll be late."
But every time he makes me stop, I like what stopping makes me see.
On most days, I believe our culture has inserted the batteries in the wrong way -- you know how that is, you put new batteries in a flashlight and it won't turn on, you click the button, "click," "click," and nothing, no light. Slowly, it occurs to you that maybe the batteries are in wrong. You unscrew the top, slip out the batteries and squint at the tiny raised "+" and "-" signs. You decide maybe the "-" is really a "+," and you reinsert the batteries, screw on the top, click the button and voila -- light!
This is what the crossing guard does for me. He reminds me to change the direction of the batteries. Our crazy world says the newest phone, the most expensive car, the thinnest waistline, the biggest house, the smoothest skin and the latest shoes are the goal and bring happiness.
This is backwards, as futile as trying to turn on a flashlight with batteries that have been put in the wrong way. What do we have at the end of a day or the end of a life when we spend all our energy on acquiring and achieving? On driving fast without stopping?
The crossing guard has it right.
Light shines when someone loves a child. Children are where we need to invest the most and who we need to value the most. They are not the drain on a culture. They are the reminders of curiosity, vulnerability and delight. They offer us endless opportunities to get better at being loving, kind, patient, firm, compassionate, playful and wise. Being better at even one of these attributes is truly what makes us rich. And how we love a child today influences how much love will grow when we are gone.
Growing love is good. The only ones who can plant love in the future are today's children.
As summer ends, and school begins, watch for the crossing guards. They are emerging all over the country, standing on street corners, in the middle of crosswalks, on sunny days, on rainy days, dressed in neon, holding a sign that says, "STOP."
What the crossing guards are really saying is, "Stop and value children."
My prayer is that we listen.
Kathleen Buckstaff is the author of two books that celebrate life and motherhood:Mother Advice To Take With You To College, a collection of hilarious drawings and wise sayings, and The Tiffany Box: A Memoir, an International Best Book Awards Finalist, a true story told through emails and letters about the last two years of Kathleen's mother's life. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Kathleen writes regularly for The Huffington Post. To be notified when she publishes a column, please sign up here.