Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
When I think about some of the most important lessons I've learned in life, I first think about practical things like how to tie my shoes, how to tell time and how to read and write. These are the kind of things that carry us through everyday life.
Recently, my mind began to focus on trying to pinpoint the one universal lesson that we all have been taught. I asked myself, "What is the one thing we all know how to do that we all use just about every day?" The answer came quickly and easily: Standing in line.
We all know how to stand in line. We do it every day. We go to the store and get in line to pay for our stuff. We go to the bank and get in line to make our financial transactions. We go to an amusement park and wait in line to get on a ride. We go to the movies and wait in line for our tickets.
Some lines are invisible, but we all still know the rules. For instance, we go to a doctor's office, check in, sit down in the waiting room and read a 2008 issue of People magazine while we wait for our name to be called. There's no physical line, but we all know the rules. Call it a line of the mind.
We do it in our vehicles too. We pull up to the gas station and get in line for fuel. We wait our turn at tollbooths. We all know the drill when we pull up into a fast-food drive-through.
It's ingrained in us. It's something we've been taught from an early age. It probably started with watching our parents stand in line. It is also taught in the first years of school. When my daughters first started preschool many years ago, I remember seeing a blue line taped to the floor leading to the playground. The kids were taught to walk that line single-file in order to properly exit the building for recess.
The lesson is learned quickly. Walk into any elementary school, and at any given time, you'll see students lined up for one reason or another. Everyone seems to have a grasp on how to get in line. I've never been at a fast-food joint where someone was driving around aimlessly trying to figure out how that confounded drive-through works. I've never been at the grocery store and seen someone in a panic saying, "How in the world do I know when it's my turn to pay for my Cheetos and Dr Pepper?"
The line is a self-imposed rule of order. I've read the U.S. Constitution numerous times, and I've never seen any article pertaining to standing in line. I'm no expert on legal matters, but I'd be willing to guess that there are no federal, state or local statutes establishing the law of the line. But somehow, we all know the rules.
Every one of us has had an experience or two with the scofflaws known as line cutters. In school, the line cutters were the rogue, outlaw types. All the students were sure these people would become the derelicts of society. We knew we'd see their faces on a poster in the post office someday. I bet Hitler was a line cutter. I'll go out on a limb and say that Osama bin Laden was probably a line cutter.
As a whole, we take line cutting pretty seriously. When someone jumps into a line where they're not supposed to, that air of disbelief passes through all the other law-abiding line standers. Then comes that flush of anger and indignation. If we're lucky, some champion of the people will eventually speak up and say, "Hey buddy! Back of the line." At that moment, many of us are ready to hoist our new-found hero to our shoulders and carry him or her to that honored spot - the front of the line.
The line is the thread that holds together the fabric of our society. It cuts across all races, genders, ages and religions. Catholics don't line up in a different manner than do the Baptists. Whites and blacks all line up the same way. The line favors no one except the next person up. Maybe we should all try to carry the lesson of the line into other facets of our lives.