The word “hero” didn’t originate with comic book characters and all things super-human, contrary to what Marvel might have us believe. Heroes are normal, everyday people doing extraordinary things and if our eyes are open, we can find them all around us.
Every day on my way to work, I drive past an elementary school on a very busy, traffic-lined street. At around 7:45 a.m., I see tons of parents, guardians and the like walking hand-in-hand with their children. Depending on what side of the street they’re on, they utilize the assistance of a crossing guard – a tall Black man in his mid-50s with a kind face, round belly and leisurely gait. Dressed in a quintessential, hard-to-miss orange and yellow crossing guard vest, he arms himself with a handheld stop sign and white hand towel.
I had seen this crossing guard many times before, but on one particular day when I was running late for work (and unfairly blaming everyone on the road for my tardiness), I stopped at his command and observed him, fully, for the first time. The care this man took to guide these children across a deluge of traversing vehicles was a thing of beauty. From that day on, I started looking forward to stopping and seeing him in his element. Sometimes he strikes up conversations with the kids and their parents. Oftentimes, no words are exchanged, just thoughtful nods, smiles and glances. I don’t know why, but seeing him proudly escort those happy little kids fills me with a sense of calm. It’s such a brief and literally fleeting moment at the start of my day, but witnessing him in action, seeing the simple process unfold, makes me feel hopeful and reminds me to be thankful for the little things. Our news feeds are regularly inundated with horrific, troubling news, so I’ll take all the goodness I can find.
With enough encounters and observations from a distance (I’m not a stalker, I swear), I began to break down the crossing guard’s process. Though he has a handheld stop sign, he almost always forgoes it. When he sees children approach, he simply presses a button attached to an overhead traffic signal that flashes yellow, steps out into the street, waves his white towel ever so gently, and points at approaching cars that immediately come to a stop. With that gesture, in one fell swoop, he not only commands you to stop, but acknowledges you, making you feel like a rock star for simply obeying the law. You can’t help but feel like a Good Samaritan. Somehow you’ve done a noble deed and all from behind the wheel of your vehicle.
It may not seem like a remarkable thing, but it’s no small feat keeping children safe from speeding, impatient and often distracted drivers in a city like L.A. where pedestrian seems to be a four-letter word. Drivers would rather speed up than let you cross the street unencumbered. Without the crossing guard’s aid, there’s no telling how long those kids would have to wait to get to school, even with their parents by their side. These little moments, the guard’s small but daily deed – they go a long way.
Seeing him makes me wonder what other heroes are lurking in the shadows of our everyday existence. People we might take for granted or simply overlook because we often search for more extravagant, boisterous stories when it comes to defining a “hero.” I wonder if that crossing guard knows he’s doing a good job, and how much he’s appreciated. He probably doesn’t consider himself a hero, but I applaud him nonetheless. He has a somewhat dangerous and probably thankless job, but he does it willingly and gladly, keeping kids safe in the process. Seeing him always puts a smile on my face.