After a big snow, have you ever wondered who it was that cleared your street? How early did they have to get up to go to work? Did someone fix them breakfast and send them off with a thermos of hot coffee? When the school bus arrives to pick up the children don’t we expect it to be safe and warm? But do we consider that the driver arrived in the frozen dark of a January morning to start the reluctant engine to warm the bus, clear the snow from the windows and inspect the bus for defects before setting off on his route? And when you arrived just as the doors opened for morning bagels and coffee did it occur to you that someone there understood that a steaming hot cup of coffee, a fresh warm bagel and a friendly smile could set the tone for your whole day?

How did we treat them? I hope we didn’t get angry because the snowplow we were following slowed us down. I hope we didn’t call the transportation supervisor and yell because our child missed the bus. And I hope we didn’t forget to thank the server who was at work by 4:30 a.m. so we could have hot coffee and something delicious to eat. If these people didn’t plow the streets and drive our children safely to school or serve the morning’s sacramental coffee with a smile our lives would be harder and less secure and we would miss the kindness.

Our lives are so busy that most of the time we live inside of our own stories and forget that everyone else has a story too. We all have hopes and dreams. We all feel heartache and fear. And we are all trying to make sense of a world that often defies reason. The inconspicuous among us, the hardworking moms and dads, bank tellers, teachers, shop owners, schooner captains, carpenters, and painters are often labeled and judged based on an appraisal of the external; in other words they are judged on the basis of who we think they are. And not looking deep enough at those we encounter, we don’t see the author in the next door neighbor, or the still life artist who paints our house. We don’t sense the compassionate nature of the landscaper who travels to ravaged nations to offer aid and comfort, or appreciate the mechanic who cares enough about his community to be active in local government. And because we don’t really see them, we are unaware that their words and art, compassion and caring impact our lives in ways we haven’t yet imagined.

Each of us is evolving whether we recognize it or not. Every person we encounter is a teacher and every experience we have is the exact lesson we are here to learn. Soon enough we won’t need our bodies and we will abandon our earthly form. Until then, the inconspicuous among us who live quietly in the background and are seldom recognized are here to help us with our transition and we … are here to help them.

Joe Tassi lives in Camden.