I will never forget his face.
My husband and I were in Paris, and it was freezing out. We were waiting for our train, and another had just arrived. I saw an older man get on the train, clearly homeless. He had a bag with his belongings. And he had another plastic bag wrapped around his neck, in the place of a scarf, doing what he could to protect himself from the bitter cold. He had stepped on the train and then turned and looked back, not at us in particular, just anywhere he could without actually seeing the stares and the small shuffling steps that people were taking to avoid the stench that he could not help. I looked at him. I looked at the bag. And then I looked down at the scarf I had tied around my neck. It was a teal color, and in fact was one that I had bought in Paris on another trip, on the very first time we had gone there together, not yet married. It was both irreplaceable, and also so very replaceable. I noticed how the teal of my scarf actually matched the teal of his hat that he was wearing, one that showed its worn areas, and was clearly meant for a woman’s head. They matched perfectly. I thought, I should give him my scarf. He needs it more than I do. I had my hand on it, ready to run it to him before the doors closed. But then I stopped. Fear had swung down and landed on my shoulder. He leaned down and purred in my ear… What if he doesn’t want it? What if there is a misunderstanding and I can’t explain myself because I don’t speak French and he may not speak English? What if the other people on the train and the platform think I am foolish for doing this? His words ran down my spine and rooted my feet to the floor. My hand fell away from my scarf, there was a loud dinging, the doors closed and the train went on to the next stop.
I will never forget her face.
I was walking home from church. The sun was out and the warmth kissed my skin and left it feeling content and safe. As I walked by a small convenience store, there was a small truck parked at a slant. Shouting fell out of its windows, followed by a tall, lean woman, dressed in a short skirt and cropped t-shirt. The man in the car flung obscenities at her as she walked away, dialing on her phone. He drove out of the parking lot, circled back to offer her more insults, then peeled away. She was not crying. By this point, she was talking on the phone and walking quickly down the street, going the same direction as me, but trailing me by about 30 feet. The truck was nowhere to be seen. My instincts told me to circle back and make sure she was alright. To make sure that she was not stuck in a situation from where she could not find an escape. To make sure that this was not one of many instances where she would find herself abandoned and kicked at. I glanced back again, preparing to turn back, wondering what would happen if she needed a place to stay for an hour and I turned up at the house where my kids and husband were waiting for me. But then I stopped. Fear had crawled up my back and started to sing into my ear. What if she gets upset because you aren’t minding your own business? What if you don’t know what you are putting yourself in the middle of? What if other people see you circle back and think you are inserting yourself where you don’t belong? And so I kept walking.
There are so many more faces. All burned in my head because I let them go, rooted to the spot by a Fear of the Unknown, of the What If.
This world is broken. And if you are by nature a Healer, a Helper, it can be overwhelming. What can you do to fix a break that goes so deep?
The answer, in my very humble and learn-as-I-fail opinion, is to do SOMETHING.
If you look hard enough, we are offered so many opportunities to do SOMETHING, each and every day. Very rarely is it a BIG something. Very rarely do we get the opportunity to CHANGE THE WORLD. But so often, we are placed in front of Moment, a moment where we can either go left or go right, where we can help or not help, and neither decision will make much of a difference in the world at large, and neither decision will take much more than one step in one direction or the other.
The decision to smile at the Mom struggling to speak sense into her child at the park. Or the decision not to.
The decision to hold the door for someone carrying bags. Or the decision not to.
The decision to pick up the piece of trash off the street. Or the decision not to.
The decision to ask a person, who you do not know, who is visibly upset if they are ok. Or the decision not to.
The decision to offer warmth to a stranger. Or the decision not to.
The decision to offer protection to a victim. Or the decision not to.
Every day. So many Moments to decide. Right or Left. Yes or No. Do or Don’t.
People assume that because they don’t have a Platform, or a Cause, or an Audience, or a Fat Paycheck, that they can’t do anything. So they do nothing. Me included. I make decisions to not help people because it won’t change anything in the long run. Or I make the decision to not help people because what if people see me try to help and then I fail? Or I make the decision to not help people because what if they people DON’T WANT HELP?
The break in this world did not start in the government. It did not start in a war. It did not start in anything that would make headline news today.
It starts in our decisions to do nothing. It starts with people like you and me, who decide to ignore hurt because we may not be able to fix it. It starts here, in my heart, when I choose not to see the little hurts because they aren’t as big as the Real Hurts. That break trickles up, and as it goes up, it gets bigger, and it gets deeper, and it gets louder. Ignore one hurt, and it transforms into something else. And on and on. And then we try in vain to fix the break by throwing tape at the top. But it will never work.
To fix the break, we must start at the bottom. We must start with the people we see in our lives. We must start by making the decision to do the small things that don’t seem to matter much in order to heal the big things that matter SO MUCH. We must start with us. We must start right now.
You might never be able to change the world, but you can change SOMETHING. By doing SOMETHING. Even if that something is just coffee. This should be world’s motto. When in doubt, just do coffee. If you can’t do anything else, just do coffee. Maybe coffee and a smile. Coffee and a hug if you aren’t afraid of personal boundaries. But just coffee is fine, too.
I will never forget their faces.
I heard the loud, heavy thump. I looked out my front door at the intersection near my house and there were two cars, making a near perfect T in the middle of the road. Both drivers were ok, but both were clearly upset. The woman at fault had her head bowed as they exchanged words, and the other woman walked across the street and stood on the opposite corner, fuming. It was not even 9:00am yet, and their days were ruined.
I walked back into my kitchen and set a pot of coffee to brew. I walked back and forth from the coffee, to the front door, changing my mind with every pass. I should go out there and see if they need anything. I should stay in here and mind my own business. I should go out there and offer coffee because it’s chilly. I should stay in here in case I just make them more upset by sticking my nose in it. Yes. No. Right. Left.
The coffee buzzed, and I set my feet. Yes. Go. Help. I bundled up my Tiny Human, gave him the creamer bottle and a spoon, then grabbed the whole coffee pot and two cups. We walked the three houses down the road together, both still in our pajamas. I stopped outside of the first car and waved the coffee pot to the woman inside. She caused the accident. She probably totaled the other woman’s car. If that were me, I would want coffee. She smiled at me and got out of the car. I looked up and over to the other woman who was already eyeing me up. I held the coffee pot up and yelled I HAVE COFFEE across the road. She was on her way home from the school drop off. She probably had things to do but now she can’t open the driver side door. If that were me, I would want coffee. She glanced in both directions then headed over. I poured them both coffee and asked if they were OK. They were, and then were quiet. Tiny Human then began to dance. The women laughed, and then took turns telling their own stories of their own Tiny Humans. One woman, the woman at fault, her kids were almost 30. The other had kids who were getting ready to make the jump to high school and middle school respectively. We all had different lives, different colored skins, different backgrounds. But in the 20 minutes it took for the cops to get there, we became one unit. Together we eased the morning calamity and turned it into something sweet, something that they could recount with a smile instead of a tear or a balled up fist. It didn’t change the fact that they both missed their mornings, and that they both would need to have work done on their cars. It didn’t make the accident not happen. But it helped. It helped.