I pass an elementary school on my walk to work and thus encounter a few crossing guards along the way. One acts as though she can barely be bothered to return a hello but eventually mumbles one in response as she marches her charges across the street. Another ignores all pleasantries outright. "Good morning!" I'll greet her with a smile, adding "You must be so happy it's warmed up!" She will stare back as though I've offended her and then mutter, "Okay, walk now." ("Chatty gal!" Elaine would sarcastically comment on "Seinfeld.") Mike passes the same women the days he walks to work, so he knows. . .and when the subject comes up between us can usually be counted on to say something like "I wouldn't even bother. You know she's not going to be friendly. Just cross the street!" I would rather know that I made an effort even if it went unappreciated, so we agree to disagree on that. Also, the older I get, the more I seem to possess a perverse determination to be especially nice to people who seem annoyed by it. One of the local crossing guards makes up for the others, though, taking the time to talk about the weather and traffic and pointing out any icy patches she knows I'll pass in the next block or so of my walk after she guides me across "her" intersection. Such cheerfulness and thoughtfulness in a job that requires her to be outside and on her feet in all kinds of weather! When either Mike or I have an anecdote about our walk to work, we know to whom "The Nice Crossing Guard" refers when we say it. She's just one of those nice people in the neighborhood.
I didn't have to work last Valentine's Day and finished buying Mike his traditional sweets that morning. A peanut butter cup heart would have been enough to make him happy, but I added a few other things to my stash for his little treat bag: A small packet of peanut butter cookies, a chocolate-covered marshmallow heart, and whatever else. As I headed toward the apartment with my bag of candy in the drizzly cold, I realized "our" crossing guard was likely still at her post, and on the spur of the moment, I decided to find her and wish her a happy Valentine's Day. When I reached her, I suddenly felt shy and stupid, wondering if she would think this a bit over the top or odd since we only knew each other as crossing guard and pedestrain. I handed her the marshmallow heart and said whatever I said to wish her a good day, and she was so touched and got such a kick out of it. "I always take a break mid-morning and sit in my car awhile with coffee I keep in a thermos," she told me as she tucked the little red foil package into a coat pocket. "Today I'll have something to eat with my coffee!" Hearing that made me feel better again--in the vein of "Whew! I'm not an idiot! She understood and just enjoyed it!"--and even now, a year later, it is one of only a few Valentine's Day moments I've ever experienced that are memorable.
I am neurotic enough to wonder as I write this if maybe the bolder and more generous act would have been to surprise one of the two cranky crossing guards with the marshmallow heart, and if I had, how that would have played-out--"What happened then? Well. . .in Whoville they say, that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!"--but giving it to "The Nice Crossing Guard" seemed the right thing to do. I found a quote awhile back attributed to writer Robert Brault that I love: "Inner beauty, too, needs occasionally to be told it is beautiful." That's my defense. :) The crossing guard is pleasant to everyone she encounters every day, and that alone is beautiful and marshmallow heart-worthy to me.