Broken Guardrails

Dearest Rachel –

So, this morning I was out walking to the ‘office’ for the first time in longer than I’d care to admit. Not only had it been a long time since I walked, the weather first thing in the morning was ideal for it, being bright, sunny and with temperatures in the mid 60s – all in all, a lovely day for the middle of August. Pity it isn’t going to stay that way – I’m to understand that they will be climbing to the mid 80s by the time I plan to head home. I may just ask Dad to drive me – he’s offered to do so a number of times in the past, and sometimes, I’ve even taken him up on it. I’m sure he won’t mind the request.

But as usual – which seems oxymoronic to say, but here we are – there was something unusual to deal with while I made my way across town.

I’d made my way through the alfresco section of downtown, and was coming to where I would need to cross the railroad tracks to get to the northern side of our village (as you know, we live only a few blocks south of the folks’ place, but with the rail line running southeast to northwest, the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ isn’t necessarily a north/south dichotomy). There happened to be a train at the station; this will happen, especially during what amounts to the morning rush hour. However, it left the station, heading toward the city, at a crawl I could have beaten at a brisk walk, before stopping in front of Evergreen Street.

So, like the traffic alongside me, I stood there and waited for a couple of minutes, assuming the train was going to start up again shortly. During that time, I was able to find myself some shade by a restaurant that was not part of the alfresco district, and I rested a bit, favoring my left ankle and shin, which were starting to hurt after a mile and a half worth of progress. I’m starting to think that I’ve worn out most of the support in these relatively new running shoes, and should consider replacing them, despite having only been wearing them for a little more than a year now.

But even with that welcome bit of rest, and despite not having any particular deadline by which to arrive at the ‘office’ (nor any pressing ‘work’ that needed doing once I got there), I was starting to get antsy as the train remained immobile. I know better than to simply cross in front of it – even from a full stop, outrunning a train is a dangerous gamble, especially when one is on foot – but, as with everything in life at a given moment, things never seem to be about to change. What is moving, we tend to think will continue to move in that direction and speed indefinitely, and what is stopped, we cannot guess when – or if – it will start again, even if we know it must. So, I decided to walk alongside of the tracks to the next street over. And it was there that I discovered what was causing the problem.

As you can see – and I’ve no idea how it happened – the guardrail has broken, and is dangling by the wiring that causes the lights mounted on it to flash when a train is near. Not only can’t it lower completely to the horizontal position it needs to be in, but the broken portion is dangling just above the track on which the commuter line is sitting, precluding it from going forward. Had the train been on the track in the foreground, there might very well have been no problem, and everything might well have progressed normally for the time being.
Once I got to Arlington Heights Road and realized what was going on, it was clear that nothing was going to happen with regard to the train making its way toward the city for now, so I crossed over the tracks and Route 14 itself. And while I won’t necessarily say I triggered it by doing so, the moment I got across the tracks, the traffic light switched to allow those who had been waiting interminably on Arlington Heights Road for the gates to go up to cross the tracks in their cars.
You can see that the train is stalled, barely half a block away from the intersection – and the dangling guardrail, even as I’m walking away down Route 14. It occurs to me that those aboard the train have no idea as to what the holdup is, and have got to be fretting about what their boss is likely to say when they arrive at the office that much later than planned.

As I continued to make my way toward the folks’ house, I found myself thinking about the whole concept of guardrails. I think it may have been after you were gone, but I can’t quite remember, as the days blur together and I didn’t attend it, but there was a study session hosted by the church a while back with this very title. The point, as I recall, was that we need ‘guardrails’ in our life to keep us from going off course – the host on the video series, one Andy Stanley, likened our path to a mountain road, where a misstep could have tragic, even fatal, consequences – and how scripture keeps us on the proper path.

I always had a slight problem with that concept. After all, wasn’t that the point of all the rabbinical commentary on the Torah and so forth? In order to avoid violating this or that commandment, other rules were placed around it so you couldn’t even get close to it. “Do not boil a kid in it’s mother’s milk,” and consequently, cheeseburgers aren’t kosher. “Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy,” and as a result, the Pharisees got on Jesus’ case whenever He or His disciples did anything on that day. It’s like Eve telling the serpent that she couldn’t eat or touch the fruit, when that last part had not been part of God’s order. And it turns us into Pharisees.

But maybe today’s situation illustrates my objection. Guardrails are perfectly useful in certain circumstances; indeed, on that mountain road analogy, they’re absolutely vital. But if they’re broken, well, then traffic is tied up in every direction. You can’t get anywhere on the train, you can’t cross the road in a car… everybody’s stuck, and right in the middle of rush hour, no less.

The thing is, it’s not nearly as obvious as it is in real life when a moral guardrail is broken like that. The Pharisees thought they had everything well in hand, when quite clearly they didn’t, and today, they are a literal picture of religious hypocrisy. I don’t know if – or how – any of this might apply to myself, either, but that’s the sort of thing that comes to mind as I’m encountering these weird circumstances along my haphazard route (emphasis on the word ‘hazard,’ at least for today)

Anyway, that’s been my morning. I’ll catch you up again soon. Until then, keep an eye out for me, and wish me luck – I’m going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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