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What happened when I said “thank you” to an unpopular cop

One time, I met a D.C. traffic-directing cop in the line at the mall 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 people in parking enforcement. 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 had any sympathy for parking enforcement cops (also known as “meter maids”). I’ve always seen them as predators, scrounging around, looking for recently expired meters. They weren’t people – they were a problem. I hadn’t even spoken to a parking enforcement officer before but a few days after my conversation at the mall, I got my chance.

I was walking to my office when I saw a very serious looking parking enforcement officer 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.”

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 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 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 on my way to the office the next morning, she saw me, burst into a smile, waved and said, “Hey, that’s my buddy!”

I want to make more buddies like her – to embrace the people who are on the fringes: the irritable guy in human resources, the awkward 12-year-old at church, the withdrawn dad who sits alone at soccer games, the quiet janitor who cleans people’s urine in the bathroom at the office.

If I’m willing to lay down my pride and unleash some kindness on people like that, I’ll be living more like Jesus, the one who loved us when we had nothing to offer Him. There’s nothing more significant that I could do with my life. And who knows what might happen if I live like that? With a little bit of effort, I might just make myself a new buddy.

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