My work day ended delightfully; I finished my last deliverable for a major project, for a major client and it was an early deliverable. I high-fived my coworker and took off 30 minutes early. The normal Seattle gloom was miles away. The sun was shining, the breeze was cool and the typically congested veins of Downtown traffic oddly moved freely, as if to signal some sort of apocalypse. Chubby Giants fans, adorned in their tangerine and black regalia shimmied from corner to corner with large coffee milkshakes topped with whip and months old caramel sauce.
It was a good Wednesday; American to it’s core and I looked forward to my walk to the Lighting store where my hammered copper sconce awaited my arrival. I whistled a nameless tune as I passed bars filled with Happy Hour patrons, kids pointing at emerald sheen muscle cars and buskers singing some John Legend tune I vaguely remembered but didn’t care to invest the brain cells to recall its title.
At the corner of Second and Battery, I spied a aging woman, frail and hobbling with a large bag of groceries, heaving in the middle of the street. A Benz came barreling towards her. I didn’t hesitate to call out and offer my help. I figured, my back is strong and her bag won’t be anything for me, so why not lend a hand?
I tugged her oddly reluctant frame to the side walk, gently watching her lean on her cane and heave. Multiple people passed us only to briefly gawk and then move on.
“May I help you with your bag, Madame?” I ask, calmly. The bag was stacked heavy, minimum 20 lbs, and I was surprised she got as far as she did one handed.
“Oh my, thank you so much for helping me! I would have never expected any help, especially from YOU PEOPLE!”
The flash was immediate for both of us. I cocked my head to one side, confused then stoic. She looked around, stammering whilst back peddling, and then quickly changed the subject.
” Are you from Access?” she asked, spying a mobility van nearby.
I coolly smiled. “No, I’m just an average person trying to show kindness. Shall I walk your bag to your apartment?”
I was willing, and rightfully so, to leave her there and let HER PEOPLE, who didn’t even acknowledge her existence, help her walk the two blocks downhill. She looked at me, other people passing, some bumping through her, her perilous journey and resigned a weak ‘yes’.
We walked side by side, yet even though she couldn’t carry the bag, she had a vice grip on the handle, thinking her feeble strength could keep it from leaving my arms. She kept rambling about how she didn’t have any money, despite my business casual attire, and how she has a dog. I stopped.
“Madame, you have a cane and we can not walk down this sidewalk quickly with your grip on this bag. Believe me when I tell you I have no need to steal from you and if I did, I could’ve done so and let that car hit you in the process. Now, do you trust me enough to let go of this bag and let me help you or shall I drop it here and let you handle it.”
The world stopped for her and I watched. I watched thinking about the trashy internet jokes / racist commentary of the man who saved a captive woman, or the prisoner who aided Edward Norton’s character of American History X, but last, the gentle milk of human kindness I received in London from young and old who did not see me as ‘Other’ but as JC: a beautiful woman, an American, an intellectual, a game designer, a fledgling actress, a curious tinkerer, reader, a gardener, a observer of the Magna Carta who happens to have brown skin.
You should stay in Europe, some told me. The Yanks would’ve never known about Jimmy, Josephine, Eartha and Paul if they stayed on that cursed soil called The States.
Yet, here I was watching this frail, pale, scared woman; deserted by her own, confronted with her fear and unable to fathom she was wrong. She looked at my face, which showed no pity, only dedication to finish the task and leave her to her own devices. Perhaps she digested it all, perhaps not; she let go of the bag and led the way to her apartment.
Upon entering her building of peeling paint, dirty floors and scuffed walls, she unsuccessfully, and simultaneously, tried to shoo me away so her neighbors won’t see her (they did, no one helped her) and offer me a glass of water. I calmly told her I could buy my own water, thanks. A male neighbor entered the elevator and as I passed her the bag, I watched the weight slip through her fingers; her elevator mate watch the items skid across the floor with nonchalance. The door closed and up they went.
I stared down the concierge, who adverted her eyes to her paper, and left the dank halls of that building, which, upon first external glance, looks like a ritzy lakeside downtown high rise.
Thus is the way of America, I suppose.
Did my kindness make it all worthwhile? I don’t know.