For the last two years, every morning when my kids cross the street to school, we have been greeted by Mr. Bill.

Everyone loves Mr. Bill. He always has a smile on his face, asks each and every child how he or she is doing, and waves to the parents as they pass in their cars. He even keeps his pockets stuffed with dog biscuits, so you can hear the excited barking as the dogs approach with their grateful owners.

But for the past two weeks, Mr. Bill hasn’t been there.

The first day I assumed he might not have been feeling well, or perhaps had decided to take a day off. But then another few days passed, and I grew concerned. I asked the friendly replacement crossing guard (friendly, yes; Mr. Bill, no!) if he was okay, and she told me that he was having problems with his knees, and that is why he hasn’t been there.

I never really thought about the impact he made, until he wasn’t thereI hope that is all it is, as we are missing him. A lot.

I never really thought about the impact he made, until he wasn’t there. But I now see how Mr. Bill has ensured that every morning we saw a smiling face and someone genuinely happy to see me and my children.

Every morning, even if we were rushed or running late, we would get a big “hello!” followed by wishes for a great school day. It took only a few words, but no one could pass Mr. Bill without smiling and feeling that much better.

I have always loved how the first thing a Jew says in the morning is Modeh Ani. While still in bed, eyes closed and barely conscious, Modeh Ani is what we say. The Modeh Ani prayer is where we thank our Creator for giving us back life and restoring our soul. Jewish philosophy teaches that sleep is one-sixtieth of death, so we are grateful to have woken up in the morning.

But we don’t say the phrase in the usual order, which would mean, “I thank You,” but rather, “Thank You I.” It doesn’t seem to make sense grammatically—but it makes perfect sense.

When we wake up, before we are to think about ourselves, and certainly before we talk about ourselves (I had the weirdest dream, I had the worst sleep, I am exhausted . . .) we first say “Thank You.” Thank You that I am breathing. Thank You that I am alive. Once we express our gratitude, then we mention ourselves.

Now that Mr. Bill has been absent for a few weeks, I am realizing that he was the continuation in our mornings of this Modeh Anilesson. His job is a crossing guard. He spends his mornings and afternoons—rain, sleet or snow—standing in the middle of the street to ensure that our children can cross safely. It must be a physically taxing job, yet he does it with a smile on his face.

He is not thinking about himself or the cold or the wet; he is looking at the children as they run to or from school, filled with promise and potential. And he ensures that, no matter what their morning was like, they enter that school building with a smile on their face. Likewise, as they leave school, he is the first one they see as they head home after their long day.

He ensures that they enter that school building with a smile on their face. I am very much hoping that Mr. Bill returns soon. I know I am not the only one who misses him. But until then, I guess it is my job to fill in for Mr. Bill. I need to make sure, no matter how late we are running, no matter if my kids forgot to pack their lunches, put away their homework or find their missing shoe, that my children (and husband) not only start their day with gratitude, but leave the house with a smile and a blessing for a great day. And, needless to say, that when they return, they are greeted with that genuine smile as well.

In the meantime, we miss you, Mr. Bill, and hope you will be back soon. And until then, rain or shine, I hope to fill your very big shoes!

P.S.: Mr. Bill returned this week to school. He had knee replacements, but is smiling nonetheless. We were all so thrilled to see him!