In People Stuff

You’ve seen them while waiting for traffic light to change. Different colored lines, arrows, circles and squares, spray painted on the street. They appear to be completely random. Sometimes running parallel. Sometimes running up the sidewalk only to stop at a lamp post. Others leave the road, disappearing into the bushes.

There appears to be no pattern.

But there is a map.

The marks on the surface indicate what’s underneath.

While in graduate school I spent a year working for Pauley Construction. At the time they were the largest sub-contractor for Arizona Public Service, a primary electricity provider in the Phoenix valley. Pauley did all the underground trenching for APS, whether for laying new power lines or repairing existing ones, which in the extreme Phoenix summer heat happened multiple times a day.

Pauley would receive the plans for each job. Before a single backhoe shovel hit the dirt we had to verify the maps were correct. My job was to take the blueprints and walk the entire project with a measuring wheel, taking note of every distance and every surface. The goal being to insure we’d be paid correctly for the work we performed.

There were about 200 different billing items. Pauley was obviously paid a higher rate to bust through concrete and a lesser rate to dig in soft dirt, of which there isn’t very much in Phoenix. On any given day I’d walk the streets in my work boots, hard hat, and orange vest, pushing a wheel with one hand while making notes with the other.

“Shea Blvd. 153’ asphalt. 4’ concrete sidewalk. 17’ caliche. 1 manhole cover. 4’ concrete curb.”

This is where the spray paint lines came in. Before Pauley could dig, they had to know what was under all these surfaces. It was my job to “read” the paint and make sure it matched with the blueprint. Blue spray paint indicated a water main. Red spray paint indicated a power line. Green was a sewer line. Yellow paint meant a natural gas line. And orange could be either cable, telephone, or internet.

All these lines were buried at different depths. Water lines need to be at least 18” deep to avoid freezing in winter. Sewer lines are least 4’ down. Phone and internet lines are quite shallow in comparison. Knowing where to expect a utility line helped Pauley’s crew avoid creating expensive problems.

Ah, if only the marks on the street were always accurate. But they’re not. When digging, you quickly learn the line is an indicator, not a guarantee. The actual line may be a foot or more away on either side. So you dig carefully. You come at it from the side from this angle and that, a little at a time so as to uncover the line, not puncture or sever it.

Driving to work the other day I saw these paint marks on a recently resurfaced road. I had the thought that human relationships would be easier if we all had spray paint marks indicating our critical lines. Orange for our minor irritations and vexations. Blue for what feeds our soul. Green for all the toxic memories we’ve been unable to flush away. Yellow for what causes us to explode. Red for what drives us. If I could get a glimpse of your paint pattern I’d know where and how to dig.

In thinking about where my own paint marks would be, I realize I’d look like graffiti on a railroad car. I’m a multi-color complicated mess. If someone wanted to dig into the me that is me, where would they start?

God’s instruction and example to us is to be kind. Romans 2:4 says, “Do you not know? It is God’s kindness that leads you to repentance.” God doesn’t dig carelessly. His gentle care opens us up to accept His correction and His unconditional commitment to us. God leads with love.

The spray paint lines we all walk around with indicate there’s a lot below the surface. Hurts and hopes. Dreads and dreams. The lines are at different depths and not always where they should be. Yet when we dig carefully with kindness, we’re able to uncover those places that need repair.

There appears to be no pattern.

But there is a map.

The marks on the surface indicate what’s underneath.

Let’s dig carefully.

Todd A. Thompson – One Eye Out

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