Earlier this week, I was preparing to make a right turn on a red light when I realized the front of my car was protruding into the crosswalk, essentially blocking it off to any pedestrians trying to cross the street. Sure enough, when I looked to my left, I saw that someone was halfway across the intersection. I backed up to get out of his way so he wouldn't have to detour around my car. As it turned out, the pedestrian was a teenage boy, shuffling along with his backpack, pants riding low, eyes on the pavement, looking pretty disengaged from everything around him, kind of in his own world... and not a very happy one, at that. Many would surmise that this wasn't a kid you'd want to meet in a dark alley.
I sat waiting for him to cross, and when he was right in front of my car, he turned to face me and, with eyes that were a tad brighter than the moment before, mouthed, "Thank you." I shot back a big smile and nodded my head. Seconds later, though, after I'd made my turn and we were both on our ways, I wondered why in the world I hadn't mouthed back, "You’re welcome," and this thought haunted me the whole way home... and into the next day. It seems to me that a "You're welcome" would have conveyed a whole lot more acknowledgment than a smile and a nod. But that's just me. And it's me in my Monday morning quarterback mode. I mean, here was this kid who looked as if nothing had gone right for him for years (and granted, looks can be deceiving, but I think many would have thought the same thing) and he had the graciousness to thank me for obeying the law and not blocking a crosswalk! I couldn't get him out of my mind and continued to stew about it.
When it comes to parenting, I know I'm not alone in looking back and regretting some of the things I have or haven't done. I absolutely know that given another chance, I would do some things differently. Over the years, I've spent more time than I'd like dealing with this reality, but the more mature I become, the more I am able to come to terms with the fact that I did the best I could at the time, and there is absolutely no value in beating myself up later for my perceived failings.
So, back to the young man in the crosswalk. Yes, I would be happier with myself if I'd responded with "You're welcome," but heck, a smile and nod aren't exactly chopped liver! And I doubt that that kid spent any time stewing about my response, and was happy to have gotten a smile out of a random adult, or possibly any adult, that day. I am now at peace with this whole incident, knowing that there is nothing like a smile to help heal, convey kindness, and light up whatever is dreary. I'm not exactly sure if this experience for me was more about the true value of an appreciative smile or how second-guessing oneself as a parent so often takes the joy out of what one does do right, but either is good food for thought, and I offer both to you in hopes that your life is somehow enriched.