The Rapidian

"There's just not enough love in the world"

Miss Brenda shares her happy smile with every passing car as she guards her crossing. She'll return in the fall once again.
Brenda Doebs helps students cross the street at the intersection of Leoard and Alpine on Friday, June 10, 2016.

Brenda Doebs helps students cross the street at the intersection of Leoard and Alpine on Friday, June 10, 2016. /Carol Shirey

Brenda Doebs smiles on Friday, June 10, 2016.

Brenda Doebs smiles on Friday, June 10, 2016. /Carol Shirey

/Carol Shirey

Miss Brenda makes me happy. Me and at least a thousand other people, every day. She waves and smiles at every single driver that passes her corner – unless she’s making a crossing. Then she might miss a few.

Every school day, Miss Brenda Doebs is a fixture in her bright yellow uniform at the corner of Leonard and Alpine on the city’s northwest side.  She’s less than half a mile from Harrison Park Elementary, where “her” children go to school, but the most dangerous steps her students take to cross the busy intersection are her responsibility. She’s been a crossing guard for three years and loves the job.

This morning, I found myself slowing as I approached Miss Brenda’s corner, weirdly hoping to catch the red light. I’m looking for children who would take her attention away from the drivers passing by, and hoping she’ll be waving and smiling at me, so I can wave and smile back at her. I almost always forget it's going to happen, until I ease up to that intersection. But then it happens, and she makes me feel so good. Her energetic wave and sunny smile make me smile. And then I feel all warm and sunny and I shake my head as I continue to work, thinking to myself “that woman is so cool.”

This morning, instead of making my merry way to work, I pulled into a parking lot and walked to where Miss Brenda stood on the sidewalk by the Walgreens sign. I asked her if she had time to chat for a few minutes and if I could take her picture. She gazed southward, down the sidewalk, searching for students who might be running to the corner on their way to school. 

“How are you doing today?” I asked.

“I’m sad,” she said. “I’m going to miss my children.” But she says it with a warm smile. She’s sad on this last day of the school year, but you wouldn’t know it. She smiles a happy smile and waves to every vehicle passing by, just like every school day.  

Today is a little different. Today she’s getting lots of extra friendly beeps and people are rolling their windows down to make sure she sees them waving back. “Hi Miss Brenda," said a friend, passing by as I stand on her corner, snapping a picture.

“Oh, I’ve known him a long time," said Miss Brenda. “I know a lot of people around here. The parents are so nice, and my kids are sweet.”

Brenda Doebs (pronounced “Dobbs”) grew up in Grand Rapids and attended Union High School. We talked a little about how things are different now. There was a lot of racial unrest then and kids from her neighborhood were bussed to Union. “Oh yes. Those were difficult times. I didn’t fight. I just rode the bus to school."  She cocks her head a little, and looks at me. "It made me sad, you know? Because school should be for learning.”

“It is different now,” she said. She paused, thinking how to word what’s on her mind. “I don’t know how to say....”  She looks me in the eye.  “There’s just not enough love.”

Wow.

“There’s just not enough love.” 

That hit me. Here’s this lovely, warm, engaging woman, standing on a city corner and sharing happiness with literally hundreds of people every day, giving as much love as she can to perfect strangers. And wishing there was more love in the world.

But oh, Miss Brenda has love for everyone. On this last day of school, she checks her watch again and gazes once more down each long sidewalk. “I don’t think they’ll be any more today," she said wistfully.

But, she’s wrong. There are some more. As we head to our cars, parked in the drugstore lot, a family emerges from a sedan. Two children and a mom approach Miss Brenda. There are hugs, and shy words. The children wrote letters. Mom hands her a card.

I ask for one last picture. She’s already put away her stop sign and taken off her neon yellow jacket. But she zips up her vest for an official shot. She smiles with a look of pride, but with a little sadness too. And thankfulness, knowing that people do feel the love.

Carol Shirey is development director of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center.

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