The other day, I met a D.C. traffic-directing cop in the line at J.C. Penney, and I remarked how dangerous her job was.
“I mean, people in D.C. drive so crazy,” I said. “You could get killed.”
“Oh no,” she said, “don’t feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for the parking ticket cops. They get screamed at, spat on, cursed out – you name it. It’s horrible.”
I have to admit that this was the first time I’d ever considered having any sympathy for parking ticket cops (derisively referred to as “meter maids” around here). I’ve always seen them as predators, scrounging around, looking for recently-expired meters. So it should come as no surprise that I hadn’t even spoken with one of them before; but yesterday, I got my opportunity.
I was walking to my office when I saw a very serious-looking, female, African-American parking meter cop rolling down the street on her segue. Right after she passed me, I said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and she wheeled around.
“I just wanted to say thank you for what you do,” I said.
The woman clutched her chest in relief.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, “I didn’t know what you were about to say.”
“I’m sure you didn’t,” I said. “I know a lot of people hassle you, scream at you, and tell you off, but the thing is, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have a parking space when it gets busy down here, you know?”
“That’s right,” she said enthusiastically, like her job was finally making sense to her. “Thank you so much for saying that. Nobody’s ever thanked me before.”
We exchanged some more kind words, and when I passed her this morning on my way to the office, she saw me, burst into a smile, waved, and said, “Hey, that’s my buddy!”
I want to make more buddies like her – I want to embrace the unpopular, the marginalized, the disregarded. The problem is, I hear the encouragement to love the unloved, and all I can think about is hungry kids in China. Then I feel all defeated and reflexively start giving up on radically living the Gospel. But after my conversation with the parking ticket cop, I’m like, Oh my gosh, it’s not that hard after all.
The opportunities are endless: that hateful guy in Human Resources, your moody 12-year-old who makes everyone in your home miserable, the excessively talkative woman at church, the quiet janitor who cleans people’s urine in the bathroom of your office.
People, look around – find yourself a person who’s probably feeling unloved and unleash some kindness on them. Who knows? With a little bit of effort, you might just make yourself a new buddy.