It looked like a Matrix moment on that early Friday morning, except it wasn’t. There were neither cops present to give tickets for jaywalking nor traffic to dodge, yet each of us waited for the permission of a green light before stepping off the curb as one.
On one corner stood a bleary-eyed young father carrying a newborn baby and a Starbucks. On another corner were a young woman dressed for work and a man still sweaty from a workout at the gym, while I stood on a third corner. All of us waited and waited and waited for the light to change.
If I hadn’t been in Pasadena, I would have been amazed to see all of us wait patiently, and seemingly needlessly, for a green light. However, this was Pasadena and it’s what we do here. It’s the community norm.
I got to thinking about it as I stood there. Was the voice of a Tiger Mom keeping me in place? Or fear of judgment from a Great-Enforcer-in-the-Sky? The answer to both was, “no.” I smiled when I realized I was waiting solely because I–Barbara Anderson–wanted to wait for the light. I waited because such ordinary courtesies are part of how our community shows respect for each other and helps keep one another safe. It’s part of what makes our community, our community. I imagine that’s why each of us waited on the curb that morning–not for fear of a ticket, but because we had internalized a respect for that which binds our community together.
We waited for the traffic light that day for the same reason we reason we hold doors for others, speak politely to one another, and step off a trail so others can pass: the easeful quality of community depends on our respect for and graciousness towards one another.
In the shaded peace of my early morning, I pondered how the nature of our character is most evident in the choices we make when no one is watching us. It shows as we choose between putting our litter in a trash can or leaving it for others. As we choose between putting our grocery cart away or letting it inconvenience other shoppers. As we treat family members with respect and kindness behind the closed doors of our home–or we don’t. As we decide whether to live with an attitude of entitlement or gratitude.
We build character one stone at a time, like building a path through a garden or forest over which we can walk later without having to think about our steps. We write our values on our hearts, walk them with our life, and by their quality, shape our relationships and communities. And the oddest moments, we notice the character we have built and who we have become.