Thursday, February 23, 2012

On islands

No man is an island, but this one was. The traffic split around him, stuck in the middle of the road. An island, floating in a sea of vehicles. The drivers were annoyed at this intermission in their otherwise smoothly flowing day. The man, the island, was moving, but it was so slowly that it barely was recognizable to the human eye. He reminded me of a turtle, dragging one leg after the other, pushing his walker ahead of him. The device seemed to offer him as much trouble as support, as he hardly had the strength to even push it.

He had missed the stop light. Whether the reason was that he cared not for such things as stoplights or pedestrian crossings - or if his lack of speed simply had prevented him from crossing the road in time - was less certain. I didn't see how it started. I only saw him there, the man, turtle, island, looking terrified and terrible. He didn't really stand at risk of being hit by a car - they drove past him, or they waited. But he might not have realized that. Besides, being stuck in traffic - literally - like that, with absolutely no means of his own to get out of the situation, must have been scary.

I was standing at the other side of the street. Lest I wanted to get stuck between the cars too, there was nothing I could do. Besides, it didn't tempt me. Going over there. Touching him. He looked like he hadn't seen a piece of soap in this decade.

Fortunately, someone else overcame such petty obstacles. The driver of one of the front cars blocked by this pedestrian wreck got out of his car and walked over to the man, the turtle, the island. I was worried for a moment that the driver was going to yell at the old man. He looked like the type - young, bald, muscular, tough. Fancy car. But sometimes our stereotypes put us to shame. The younger man bent down to the crippled man, and talked to him. Took his arm around his own shoulder, helped him move forward.

After a while, the lights changed again. The other pedestrians who had been standing at the side of the road approached the stranded island and its savior. "Let me help him," one man said to the young driver, "and then you can go back to your car."

But he wouldn't. The fancy car stood abandoned, blocked no longer by an island, but by an act of kindness.

In the end, they both helped the old man cross the road. They didn't make it on that first stoplight. Perhaps not even the second. When I turned to look after having crossed from the opposite direction, they had still only come about halfway. When I returned after having run my errands, everything was back to normal. Traffic ran as usual.

The old man was still there, though, at the curb of the opposite side of the road. He was still dragging his feet along, moving at the speed of a turtle, or a large island - a continent, perhaps. I don't know where he was going. I hope he got there safe.


Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I suspect the old man did it on purpose. This shit happens all the time where I live. Homeless people who have nothing, can at least impact the lives of those who do have things by throwing themselves into traffic. They walk purposefully slow because their existence is important, and forces you to acknowledge them.

I'm kind of torn in my feelings of the homeless. I know many of them and help many of them as a part of my job. A lot (not all) are con artists and criminals. They boldly confess to you their sins when they get to know you. But there are others too that have landed in this predicament not due to choices, but due to forces out of their control. It is those that I want to help the most.

Melody said...


Kelly said...

What a lovely, lovely story.

mshatch said...

I can only concur with Melody and Kelly.

Cruella Collett said...

Michael - your view on the homeless is probably a lot more complex than mine, due to your experience with working with them. I can only judge from what I saw. I've seen this man before, though - he seems to have a specific route he takes each day. Don't know where to or where from, but I often see him on a bench by the closest bus stop to that crossing, resting after what apparently is an exhausting walk for him. I have no grounds for judging whether he stopped the traffic on purpose or not. I don't think he was walking slowly on purpose, though. His legs barely seemed to fuction - in fact - his body barely seemed to function. I suspect long time alcoholic and/or other substance abuse, and that is sad whether it is the result of a conscious choice or not.

And yes. Despute the sadness of this (I almost cried in the middle of the street), the act of kindness from those other men struck me as real beautiful.

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