Power walking on Fordham Road. If I have to walk to work, I'm going to make it a workout. So I wear my sneakers and sweatpants, and really freakin' walk.
This morning, as I near Jerome Avenue, I hear Excuse me. Excuse me. I turn toward the sound, and see a tiny, elderly woman clinging to a lamp post. Help me, please, she said in a small voice. I cringed only slightly, and only inwardly. I couldn't, just couldn't, walk on by. Everyone else was ignoring her, I wouldn't. Would you please help me across the street, she asked. I don't walk so well. And so, I smiled, and took her hand and arm, and very slowly helped her across the street.
But it appeared my good deed wouldn't end there. How far up the road are you going, she queries, as we reach the other sidewalk. I wouldn't, couldn't lie. All the way up to the university, I responded. Would you help me get to my bus stop, please, she begged. Damn, I thought, I'll be late for work. And then I mentally kicked my own ass, because I don't punch a time clock, so it doesn't matter if I'm late, I just work later to make up the time. So, I asked her how far that was. And took her hand and arm again and proceeded down the street.
I could see she had extreme difficulty and pain when walking. It looked torturous, watching her, needing to stop every so often to rest and catch her breath. She could have benefitted from orthotic devices or shoes to help her walk straight, perhaps a walking stick of some kind. But those kinds of things cost money. And, they would be a constant reminder of the frailty of the body.
Walking with her forced me to slow down, to interact, rather than existing in my mind for the entire walk, as I normally do. And she was a lively thing. Mental faculties fully functioning, just her body failing her. She mentioned all the colleges she'd gone to. Spent one semester at my university before going somewhere else. She was at least 70, but she just graduated college in 1989. My hat's off to her for staying on target, however long it took. She said that at her commencement, Rosa Parks was the commencement speaker. I wasn't sure whether to believe her or not, but when she told me she didn't know who Ms. Parks was at first, it seemed more legit. And then she said Ms. Parks was a tiny thing, came up to my shoulder. Well, since this woman came up to my shoulder, and I'm 5'5", that would indeed make Ms. Parks a tiny thing. But I do think I read somewhere that this is true, Ms. Parks was short in physical stature. So maybe she did meet Ms. Parks, who knows.
When we arrived at her bus stop, she had to wait for her bus, so I offered to stay with her and help her get on the bus. She thanked me profusely, and shared that most people do more than just walk on by and ignore her. Many of them get attitude, and yell at her for bothering them. I try to let it go, she said, but sometimes I just get sassy. Look, I say, you will be me sometime in the future, and when you ask someone for help, I hope you remember how you treated me today. I only hope you won't be treated the same. Bless her soul for being sassy. She is an incredible woman.
All I know is that these continual encounters with life in my commute have been particularly noteworthy, and I can't complain about things too much when I see the life around me. I'm just fucking glad I'm alive, and I can still walk unaided.