When September rolled in and school started up for Missoula Public Schools, I expected to see an old staple who I had seen every day of the school year for the past two years. The opening week of school passed and I did not see him. The next week passed and I did not see him either. Then came the third week, the fourth week, the fifth week. It is now late October and I know he will not be back at his post. I know he probably just retired his duties and enjoying himself now but you never know for sure.
My house is right next to Rattlesnake Elementary, a school within the Missoula Public School District. The school sits on a busy street called (yes, you got it) Rattlesnake Drive. In the weekday mornings about a quarter till eight, the street is congested with the morning commute. As is protocol for any elementary school in the nation, they have a crossing guard who stops traffic to allow for young students to cross the street. To be a crossing guard in Missoula you either have to be a little crazy or have a heart of gold. You see, once you get into the November-April months in my town, the mornings are brutal. More on that later.
Anyway, the crossing guard I had the privilege of driving by each morning for the past two years was special for a couple different reasons. First off, he was not a year shy of seventy-five years old. This is a very generous estimation too. Although I believe him to be older, my conviction to never fabricate the truth to make a story better forces me to low ball him a bit. Put a gun to my head and I say he is pushing eighty.
Secondly, the guy never missed a day…never. For all 180 days of the school year that elderly gentlemen held down his crosswalk with his life. In a society where so many people call in sick or can’t tough out some minor ailment, this guy was perfect in the most extreme conditions. He was a constant, whenever I took that left off of Lincoln Hills and onto Rattlesnake, he was the first thing I would always notice.
Thirdly, this guy was special because of his attitude. Every single car that passed by he would give a friendly wave and a warm smile to. This wave was not some half-assed lazy shake of his hand either. He would give an animated, enthusiastic wave to each car that passed by. His smile was genuine, the twinkle in his eye would make Santa Claus envious. His kind eyes would always pierce right through my windshield, no matter how iced over it was, and make contact with mine.
So this guy was old, he was consistent, and he was positive. Although hard to be all three of these things when the weather is warm and the birds are chirping, it is about ten times harder to have these traits when the weather is -10 degrees out and the wind is blowing like there is no tomorrow. Missoula winters absolutely suck. Missoula winter mornings are the worse. Dark, cold, windy, and snowy, I always feel like I am going to die just running from my house to my car that is ten feet away in the driveway. I am not kidding, the mornings are beyond harsh. For the first two minutes of my commute to work I would freeze my butt off and then I would see him on the side of the road and I would get his wave and smile and I would warm up a little. It was as if my body called me an idiot for feeling even a small amount of discomfort when there was this old man with many more years and much less insulation than myself standing completely exposed to the elements for almost an hour. It is just beyond me to think about how at that age, or any age for that matter, you can convince yourself to get out of your warm bed when it is pitch dark outside and say “Hey, I am going to go stand out in arctic cold temperatures for an hour and help protect kids while waving to adults who are probably too busy talking on their cellphones or texting to even look at me.” It definitely takes a special person.
Yes, I did take inspiration from that old man every day that I drove by. He did make me want to have a more positive attitude about the day that lay ahead. I mean if that guy could have a good time waving to motorists in the most uncomfortable conditions than there was no reason why I could not have an amazing day every day of the week inside my warm workplace with great co-workers and a few hundred vibrant, talented student-athletes.
I sit here right now really wondering for the first time how the actual students looked at this guy. Funny how I never thought about it until I wrote this post. I know he probably treated them all like treasured grandchildren and knew each one by name. The cool thing is, those kids will remember him. I definitely remember certain adults from my early childhood who showed care and warmth to me. At that age, you can detect a genuinely kind person in a heartbeat.
This school year there is a new person holding down the crosswalk. He is probably about forty, long hair, and he looks kind of out of it. He might wave at you on a good day, don’t expect him to actually look at you though. I guess I have unrealistic standards now because I was spoiled by the best. The old man did more than just provide safety and order; he provided perspective. Believe me, that s a great thing to be able to ponder on your drive to work. Don’t Blink.