First, a little background to this posting:
I used to teach in San Rafael, but I have always lived in the East Bay and I took the Richmond Bridge every single morning. Trying to avoid traffic, I would usually leave my house by 6:45 am at the absolute latest, but usually it was more like 6:30. As I am not a morning person, this was generally the grumpiest point of my day. I made it into the car, but I was not happy about it.
Taking the bridge every day, you get to see the same people in the toll booth. Some of them just took your money and moved on, and one woman seemed pissed about having to see me every day (I made it a personal vendetta to be extra cheery when I was in her lane and always told her to have a nice day), but there was one woman who stood out from the rest.
Every single day, this woman had a huge smile on her face. I would literally feel myself smiling as I realized I was in her lane. You'd drive up and she'd say, with a big grin, "Good MORNING!" and just like that-- it WAS a good morning. Sometimes she'd send me off with a "God Bless you" or a "Have a great day!" and sometimes she even called me "honey." Whatever the words, I always felt better as I drove away. I used to think about (indeed, some friends have heard me discuss it-- probably several times) how that job could be totally tedious and perhaps if I was a toll worker, I'd be pissed like the other one, but this woman really took every single interaction she had with people as an opportunity to share some warmth and kindness with the world. Those interactions reminded me that I always had an opportunity to be kinder to someone, to be in a better mood-- it reminded me that we choose so much of our outlook on the world, and there was nothing stopping me from reaching out, in whatever small way it was, to another human being.
She was my favorite toll person. Hands down.
Flash forward to today, when I was crossing the Richmond Bridge again. I almost missed the sign saying "In Memoriam of Deborah Ross." I couldn't see the picture clearly, but I thought-- I hope it's not that wonderful woman. I came home tonight and found out that yes, Deborah WAS the name of my favorite toll person and that even worse-- she was murdered by a recent ex-boyfriend, while she was working in the toll booth.
Obviously this is heartbreaking and it has made me very sad. (I'm not going to have a rant about domestic violence, but go support your local organizations.) I didn't really know her, so I didn't go to the funeral (plus, it was two weeks ago), and it's not like she was a big part of my daily life-- especially now that I don't commute to San Rafael any more. However, her life was important--I am sure that if she impacted my morning commute in such a positive way, she must have done the same thing for thousands of people over her toll person career. So I'm writing this in memoriam of such an amazing person, and also to remind myself that we never, ever know what impact our words and actions can have on others. Deborah Ross had no idea what my name was, but she made my life better just by her joy and warmth toward others. I hope that I can keep trying to do the same.