I am a very impatient person. When I am waiting in line at an automatic teller machine, I inevitably end up behind the guy who not only withdraws money, but also checks his savings account balance, puts his card in and out of the machine three times and tries to get on-line. When I am at McDonald's and my line is not moving, I hop over to another one in hopes of getting my McFood crammed down my McThroat as soon as McPossible. Unlike the Rolling Stones, I never feel that time is on my side.
The other day, I was driving around Tucson in my typical rush when traffic began to back-up. I cursed to myself and wondered what idiot driver had slowed down to fix his/her hair. After about a minute, traffic started moving again and I drove past a crossing guard waving good-bye to a group of elementary school students. The traffic had stopped because the crossing guard was helping kids cross the street. Suddenly, I thought of someone whom I'd nearly forgotten about. I thought of Merle.
From fourth to sixth grade, Merle was my crossing guard. Every morning, he would help me across a busy road my mother told me never to cross by myself. Without Merle, I would probably still be stuck on the street corner asking people to help me get to the other side of the street. I imagine if I went up to girls and asked "Will you hold my hand across the street?" they would think it was a weird pick-up line.
I remember that Merle was as old as my grandparents and he always had a smile on his face. Every morning he would say "Hello" and ask how everything was going. I would usually say "Fine," but sometimes I would tell him that I was in trouble for talking in class or trying to sell my little sister at the swap meet. He would always nod his head and offer advice or condolences. Whenever I would get my report card, I would show it to Merle and he would clap me on the shoulder. "You're going places, Jon. You're going places," he would say. Sometimes he would even tell me if anyone had won a car that day on the "Price is Right."
Once, when I was in the fourth grade, a fifth-grader got mad at me because I beat him at tetherball. That day after school, he chased me home. Just before I reached the crosswalk, the fifth-grader caught me and started swinging his fists. I blocked most of his blows with my "Empire Strikes Back" lunch box, but he pushed me down to the ground. He was going to hurt me. But Merle ran over to us and yelled, "Leave Jon alone." Then Merle swatted the fifth-grader on the butt with his stop-sign. That day Merle saved my life.
After I left elementary school, I no longer had to cross that street to get to school. Besides, I was older and I could cross the street by myself. I saw Merle every so often and noticed how he seemed to be shrinking and I was growing taller. Then one day I noticed that Merle wasn't there and someone else was helping kids cross the street. My parents told me that he retired. I never really thought twice about it, but I remember thinking that the new crossing guard couldn't be as good as Merle was.
After seeing the crossing guard the other day, I couldn't get Merle out of my mind. Something was unresolved. In the grand scheme of things, Merle had not played a major role in my life. He was not an influential teacher or a best friend, he was just a nice crossing guard. He would do a small, good thing helping me cross the street every weekday.
I began to think about my life now. Sometimes I am so blinded by my own impatience that I do not recognize the small, good things people do for me everyday. The Wildcat is always writing about students, faculty and administrators, and sometimes we forget about the university staff Ä the people who really make this school run.
That day I was extra-observant of what people did for me. The woman at the degree check office took the time to find my degree check form even after it didn't show up on the computer. She apologized even though it wasn't her fault. For lunch, I went to the Brown Bag Counter in the Student Union and got my peanut butter and jelly brown bag with a Pepsi from Dolly. Almost everyday I pass by the counter or get lunch there and Dolly jokes with me and occasionally comments on my column.
Later that day, I passed by a guy who was cleaning up garbage near Old Main. For the first time in my four years here, I realized that someone had to cut the lawn of the UA Mall. It's stupid, but it never even crossed my mind before. Not only are there people who mow the lawn, but there has to be people who wash the dishes at Louie's Lower Level, clean the toilets in every bathroom on campus, shelve library books and pick up the trail of inserts left by Arizona Daily Wildcats.
At the end of the day, I realized what was unresolved with Merle. There was something that I never said to him Ä something that you usually get only one chance to say to someone who has helped you or brought a smile to your face.
Jon Burstein is a senior in journalism and political science. Like it or not, his column appears every Tuesday. Normally he is a negative creep, but he has vowed to be a kinder and gentler Jon. Yeah right.
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