I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connecting with strangers. Wondering why it’s so hard. Why sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Why some people seem to expect good things to happen, and others expect nothing. Or worse.
Some people seem to be surprised (and offended) when life intrudes on their plans for a perfect day. I’m like that myself sometimes. It’s not cool to be all entitled. But it’s really sad to expect nothing but crap from life. I get why some people feel this way but it breaks my heart.
I’m most at peace when I can take it all in stride – the “good” and the “bad” (when you take it in stride, it stops being “good” or “bad”, see? It just is). I’ve had a few moments in the past 50+ years when I’ve actually found this place. At least, I think so. My memory isn’t what it used to be.
I have lunch once a month with a dear friend. We have a kind of running joke because I am compulsively punctual and she is a recovering latenik. Meaning she is usually on time (ish) but she has to really work at it. In the dozens of times we have met, there have been maybe one or two when she arrived first. A couple of months ago she was thrilled to find herself waiting for me. As the minutes ticked by, her triumph shifted into curiosity and then concern. She checked her calendar and realized she was at the wrong location, and at least 15 minutes away from where she was supposed to be. She was going to be late. Really late.
We had a date this week and I arrived in plenty of time. Early enough that I figured I had time to run two blocks to the library, where I had a book ready for pick-up. I rounded the corner and saw, across the street, what looked like a big pile of blankets. A woman was crouched down next to it and few people were standing nearby.
Almost in slow motion, the picture came together in my head. There were two legs, in braces. It wasn’t a pile of blankets at all. It was a person. She was still strapped into her scooter and lying sideways on the pavement.
As I ran over I could hear the woman crying. I asked if she was hurt and her friend said maybe she had hurt her arm. “We can’t lift this scooter! I just called 911,” she said. “They should be here soon.”
I kneeled down and took the woman’s hand. I asked if we could take the blanket off her lap and put it under her head, which her friend was holding up off the pavement. “NO!” she yelled. Then she started to howl. “I fell down when I was a little girl and I’ve always been afraid of falling!” she sobbed. She clutched my hand.
We heard the sirens approaching and the woman’s friend told her that help was almost there. “You’re going to be okay,” she soothed. Sure enough, they were there within another minute and the paramedics were getting to work. The woman was squeezing my hand so tightly I had to pry her fingers loose. Carefully, gently, I broke our connection. I never even saw her face.
The whole thing had taken just a few minutes. I ran into the library, checked out my book as fast as I could, then trotted back toward the cafe. The woman was still lying in the street, but they had gotten her free of the scooter. My friend was just getting out of her car and grinned as she saw me approaching.
I’ll remember the woman for a long time – how she found some comfort in the familiar warmth of an outstretched hand, even that of a perfect stranger. She allowed me to feel helpful by doing the simplest thing in the world. I wasn’t using my hand right then so letting her borrow it was hardly an act of heroism. If I’d taken off my jacket to put under her head, that would have been good. But I didn’t think of it till later.
I made my first visit to the local farmer’s market today. It was packed, as usual. Still mostly greens, onions, plant starts and root vegetables but no one seemed to mind.
I made a few loops around and bought a couple of cucumber starts; that was it. We’ve got a ton of lettuce in the garden and nothing else really inspired me.
I passed a bus stop on the way back to the car. There was a man talking on his phone, pacing back and forth in front of the bench. He had a cane hanging from one arm and was holding a cigarette and a lighter in the other hand. Every few minutes he’d light the cigarette, take a drag, and then put it out. I could hear every word of his side of the conversation.
“So, what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna get on the 77 and take it down Broadway. Then I’ll hop on the 9 and take that downtown. Maybe I’ll stop at the Goodwill there on Broadway cause that’s where I make the change. Uh hunh, yeah.” There was a pause and I could hear a woman’s voice coming from the old style flip phone.
“If you want,” he continued, “maybe we could go to that big Goodwill down there. Say hi to that guy. And that girl with the pretty hair. She’s always asking about you. Uh hunh, okay. Yeah, I’m waiting for the bus now.”
I contemplated signaling to the guy to hang up so I could have a word with him. I did it to Dylan a few months back, but today it just seemed rude. I snuck a picture of him when he had his back turned.
We were both watching for the bus, except I was hoping it wouldn’t come for a while. Then there it was, and the guy started winding up his call. “Okay, here’s my bus, I gotta go.”
For a second I thought about moving on. Then I pulled the hundred I had stashed in my pocket and got the guy’s attention. “Hey, I know your bus is here but before you go I have something I want to give you.” I pushed the bill into his hand and got a good look at his face for the first time. “Wha… what’s this for?” he wondered. “It’s for you; I hope you have a great day!” I said. The bus had pulled up and was waiting but he wasn’t making any move toward getting on. “Wow, I don’t know what to say! I just really appreciate this.”
“Go!” I said, with a laugh. “It’s my pleasure!” He shook his head, smiling, and climbed up the stairs. I thought I saw a twinkle in the driver’s eye.
As the bus pulled away, The guy gave me a big wave. I could feel it even after he was gone. He was shaking his head. And wondering.
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