I had a whole plan for today, all mapped out on my calendar. But my walk to the gym put a huge wrench in those plans. And I feel the need to write about it. So here we are…
At around 11:15 AM, I left my apartment, and about a half block ahead of me, I saw an elderly woman with a cane fall in the street near the end of the crosswalk. I quickened my step as I watched her struggle to get up. People walked up and down the sidewalks without even a glance at her. So I yelled out that I was coming, to just stay put and that I would help her.
She was a bit overweight – I wasn’t going to be able to get her up by myself, so I called over to a woman walking across the street. The two of us were able to get her to her feet. But she was very shaky. I then wondered if she was injured and that we shouldn’t even have tried to get her up. But she insisted she wasn’t injured. Just shaken up.
We were right outside of the Water Tower Mall, so we precariously guided her inside to find her a place to sit. I tried to reassure her, repeating, “You’re ok, we’ve got you.” That was greeted with, “No, it’s not ok. Nothing is ok.” True. What did I know?
Of course, there were no chairs anywhere in sight, so we had her sit on the staircase. She was so upset that she had fallen that she felt nauseous. With nothing and no one around, the other woman that helped get her to the stepspulled a trashcan over and set it next to her, just in case.
The woman who fell insisted over and over that there was “no one to call. I live alone. There is no one.” But I didn’t feel right just leaving her on the steps in a mall. So I asked if I could get her phone number to check up on her. She didn’t have a cell phone.
Finally, I spotted a security guard, who was busy talking on his phone and oblivious to us, not surprisingly. Eventually I just yelled out “Security,” and he turned around after walking right past us.
I quickly recapped the story and asked if he could periodically check in with the woman who fell to make sure she was going to be all right. He stared at us, and we could hear the voice on the other end of the phone continue to chat. He never asked the person he was talking to to hold on for a sec or to let him call back. He just continued to hold the phone to his ear while he tried to carry on a conversation with us.
Of course, he asked the woman if he could call someone. She told him, “There is no one to call.” And she didn’t want to call an ambulance. She just needed to sit and calm down and assess any injuries. The security guard never stopped his conversation on his cell phone during this entire encounter. And he kept shrugging his shoulders at us.
Eventually, I left the woman with the security guard’s assurance that he would check in even though, he pointed out, he was the only guard in the building (is that even possible?? The mall is seven stories!). I just wasn’t sure what else I could do. But I vowed I would swing back by after my yoga class and check on her (she had left by then).
But there were such important lessons in that ten minute encounter.
- Never walk past someone who has fallen in the street. Heck, never walk past someone who has fallen anywhere and needs help, street or no street. The woman admitted she had fallen a few months ago, and it took ten minutes before someone offered to help her. She said she had flashbacks when she was laying in the street. No wonder she was nauseous.
- Do not be the person who is repeating, “There is no one to call. There is no one.” Especially in a big city with millions of people. Yes, I also live alone, but I have people to call. I resolve to always have someone to call.
- Attention all security guards. And police officers. Get the f*%# off your phones!!! You simply cannot be doing your job while on your phone. You cannot be appropriately aware of your surroundings. You cannot anticipate trouble when your head is buried. Stop it.
That was upsetting, but I continued my walk to the gym. A couple of blocks later, a woman called to me from down the street as she rushed toward me, “Do you know what time it is?”
“11:34” I told her.
“Thank you! Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I said. She appeared to perhaps be homeless, but she was willing to keep up with my brisk pace, so I figured go ahead. Give me your question. But the question was certainly not what I expected.
“If I was on fire, and it wasn’t gasoline or oil, what would you use to put me out? Water or piss?”
Water or, what did she say? Piss??
I let her know that if she was on fire, I would put her out with water and then make sure she “dropped and rolled.”
“That’s the right answer! Fist bump!” she said, holding out her fist. So my mittened hand gave her a fist bump.
“I have another question,” she said. She was still keeping up with me, so I let her ask.
“Some people think I’m crazy. And maybe I am. I’ve really screwed up my life. I mean, I really fucked it up. It’s true. I admit it.”
Then she began to mumble, and I couldn’t catch what she was saying until she got to the part when she said she needed fare for the train.
I had my drivers license, my phone, and a water bottle with me. I wouldn’t be able to help. She was fine with that and asked if she could get another fist bump. I gave it to her and told her not to listen to those other people who call her crazy. (Yeah, I’m sure that was helpful advice.)
She disappeared around the corner, and I disappeared into the building that holds my gym. And for a moment, I was overcome, tears filling my eyes. But why?
I’m not sure. Maybe the shock of encountering in a very short time two very lonely people who desperately needed human contact. Maybe because it almost felt like the law of attraction at work. The homeless woman sensed I was going to be open to her, which I probably only was because of the woman who fell. Or maybe because of the reminder that I also desperately need human contact. And that I can never allow that to go unfulfilled.
Cassandra’s Daughter by Vickie Oddino
Available on Amazon