A Random Act of Respect

September 8th, 2011
Image © shawnogram | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

It was so unexpected. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. It happened as if it were choreographed. I have seen time-lapse photography of the unfolding of a lily bloom or the ripening of a fruit. I have seen dance routines where everyone did their thing in order. But this seemed to just come off without any prompting from anyone. It just happened and my day was changed.

I was a part of a funeral procession leaving the Belle Meade United Methodist Church in West Nashville and making our way to the Spring Hill Cemetery in Madison. Our route took us via Post road, White Bridge road, and on to Briley Parkway. It was a long distance for a funeral procession but we were led by three escort vehicles doing the things they do—all with lights flashing. I was traveling behind the hearse, the designated place for the minister’s car.

On Briley Parkway, we saw signs indicating road work and that the right lane would be closed. This posed no problem to our procession for the funeral escort people know about these things. We soon came upon the road work. Indeed, there was work on the right lane—two or three big trucks waiting their turn, a huge dinosaur looking machine chewing up the old asphalt, an oil tanker, a roller-packer and several other service machines. Far back from the work, orange cones outlined the path for our travel. In addition there were workmen in yellow striped safety vests and yellow work helmets directing us to the left lane.

I could hardly believe what I was seeing. The first worker in the half-mile or so construction, the one waving the procession into the left lane, removed his helmet and stopped his waving. Almost like a “wave” in a stadium, every worker along that construction zone as the hearse approached removed his helmet—one after the other in precision-like order. My mind was twirling.

How did this happen? I’ve been in funeral processions for more than sixty years. I’ve seen cars stop when traveling in opposite lanes. I’ve seen people line the street when a military hero was being transported. But I have never seen an entire battery of workers in machine-like-order remove their helmets and stop their work as a funeral procession proceeded on its way. Was this programmed? Was this a part of the company’s orientation for workers? Was this an impromptu gesture by one person and then followed by others? What prompted this gesture of respect?

I don’t know. But I do know that it sent my mind soaring with good vibrations. I turned off the radio so I could savor what I had experienced. Earlier the news had been about the horrible events of Libya and Syria and the tragic murders here in our own city. We live in a negative-overload world. And then I come across a group of people doing a hot tough job taking off their helmets in memory and honor of someone they didn’t expect to pass their way and do not know.

From this, I have no new policies to suggest and no new recommendations to offer. I simply encountered a thoughtful random act of respect in an unexpected place and it gave me a new hope for humankind.

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