I found myself remembering something this morning. I’m not sure what dragged this memory out the “things I’d rather forget” closet. Perhaps it was the shivery fog lurking outside and my hopelessly cold nose, or maybe deeper currents were moving. I used to work in an office in downtown Louisville. I loathed the job honestly. For some reason, those are the situations I’m prone to stick to. I’m determined to find a way not to loathe them. This particular circumstance was futile, but that’s another story.
I worked horrid hours. My work day began at my desk at precisely 6 a.m. Living on the other end of the county meant a long drive down the dark freeway before most of the white knuckle lunatics hit the road. It was the only perk. It also meant having to leave home at 5 a.m. before the sun began to color the sky. As with any city, parking downtown is at a premium and those who hadn’t made their way up the corporate food chain were doomed to park several blocks away from the office. We were relegated to the concrete no-man’s land of the ballpark parking lot next to the river. We hourly riff raff dutifully congregated there and dutifully trudged on foot the rest of the way.
I can still feel that winter wind blowing across the river. It would cut a swath through the razor-sharp darkness as I left the comfort of my car like an angry slap. It jeered at me for being half asleep and facing the long trudge to a cubicle on the 10th floor as drab and gray as the job was. Some days it took all my strength to take those first few steps; to voyage across that concrete sea. Some days it would have been so much easier to just turn around and go home.
The parking lot was an intimidating place in the dark. Aside from the unpleasantness of shoving myself against the wind and my own reluctance, the worries of those rumored “unsavory homeless” and other undesirables lurking with sinister intentions tumbled around in my stomach like stones. Luckily there was a guard who sat in the parking attendant’s booth at the entrance of the lot “just in case.” The warm glow from inside that little one-man building was always a welcome. But that warmth didn’t come from the cold white light bulb. It radiated from the man sitting inside.
“Good morning, ma’am,” he would sing out in his rich baritone voice as he saw my hunched figure approaching.
He had a quality to his voice that warmed you like that first cup of coffee in the morning. He made you feel as if he was waiting there just to be able to say those few words to no one in the world but you, and he was damn happy to see you.
“You have yourself a good today now. Be sure to keep warm.”
I never did see his face clearly or even know his name. He was just the voice in the dark. I wonder if he knew the inner warmth he provided me as I shuffled past all those silent buildings and carless stop lights. I wonder if he knew he personally was the one who set my mood straight every day to do what I needed to do.
I regret not knowing his name. I regret never stopping to offer him a coffee. I regret most that I never thanked him. His little hut wasn’t heated. He had to be as cold as I was. He was awake as early as I was. He had every excuse to be as miserable as I was, but he wasn’t. He delivered smiles to every person who walked by, singing out his good-mornings with no less enthusiasm. We were all “ma’ams” and “sirs” with a tip of his hat; a luxury we weren’t afforded in our little anonymous cubicles.
There are so few people like that man; people who will reach out to a stranger with warmth and kindness again and again without expectation of anything in return. These are the truly special souls in the world. One thing’s certain, you don’t forget them. I may never have been able to thank him, but I can remember to pay that kindness forward into the cold dark morning.