The woman had dark skin, and was likely in her late forties. She wore a long blue skirt and a light puffy fall jacket. In her hand, she carried one of those large dollar-store hard plastic bags to carry her belongings. She stood by my window and indicated with a hand gesture that she wanted to speak to me. I rolled down my window, prepared to provide directions, take a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet, or tell her I had no cash (which I didn't). She spoke to me in a thick African (possibly Nigerian) accent and in her raspy voice asked, "Can you give me a ride?" Without a moment's pause, the words "I can't" escaped my lips. She looked at me with her lingering eyes filled with a mixture of what seemed to be sadness and shock. After a few seconds, she walked away.
I don't know if it was the sadness in her eyes, or the awkward silence that we shared, but my heart began to ache. I let out a sigh and put my car into reverse. As I began to drive, I spotted her about two yards away as she began her peregrination to her destination. Her movements were slow, and she walked with a slight limp. The look of sadness was still painted on her face. Again, I felt a sharp pain in my heart as my guilt began to swell inside of me. Immediately I became conscious of the emptiness in my car. I sat in this roomy vehicle alone, which could easily fit four additional adults, yet I had just denied this woman a seat. I silently cursed myself for rejecting this woman, a woman who could easily have been my aunt, while I was fully capable of providing assistance. "Damn you, America!" I thought, where the news trains you to be scared of your own shadow, where you are dissuaded from lending a helping hand at the risk of being murdered or kidnapped, or even sued. I hated that I had to experience such cognitive dissonance: I battled with a guardedness and empathy within me. Why can't we live in a world where we can just help one another, without a second thought, where we could simply connect with one another as humans should?
After concluding that this woman was not likely to bring me bodily harm, I rolled down my window and asked, "Where are you headed?" She told me that she was headed to the bus stop. And again, my heart broke. This was only the first part of her long journey. I told her to get in, and she got into the passenger side. "Thank you," she smiled subtley as she put on the seat belt. In her large bag, I noticed papers, a pill box and cheap reading glasses that you can get at Wal-Mart. At that moment, I wondered what risks this woman was taking in order to get into a car with me, a total stranger. I wondered how she finally made the decision to swallow her pride and approach a (presumably friendly) stranger to ask for a ride, and what it must feel like to be treated with suspicion, and rejected without a second thought. I imagined myself in the situation, something that could easily happen if God-forbid I injured myself on one of my occasional bike rides to work and needed assistance. I imagined the embarrassment of mustering up the strength to ask for help, and being shunned like a second-class human. I asked her where she was coming from, and she mentioned that she had an appointment at the medical clinic. I imagine that she must've had a long day. She must've ridden the bus, gotten off at the stop, walked to the clinic, waited in the waiting room, and simply didn't have the energy to make the uphill 2-mile walk back to the bus stop.
It took three minutes to drive her to the bus stop, including traffic lights. I pulled over, and she undid her seat belt, said "Thank you" and "God bless you" before getting out of the car, shutting the door, and resuming her limping to the bus stop bench. "Be safe," I yelled, as I drove off. My eyes welled with tears as I continued my travels. No U-Turn was necessary, because her stop was on route to my destination. I thought of my grandmother who used to make the 1.5 mile walk during the week to attend church years ago before she started walking with a cane. She barely spoke any English, yet somehow she managed to get a ride home about 40% of the time. She didn't know the words to ask even if she wanted to, but people voluntarily stopped to offer her a ride. As a foreigner to the country, I had to warn her of stranger danger, however these kind strangers became friends of sorts. They realized that they regularly attended the same masses at church, and despite the language barrier, became friendly enough to exchange Christmas gifts.
I write this post, not for accolades for being a "good Samaritan" but to contemplate for a moment about our human connections. What impacted me the most about my interaction with my 3-minute passenger was not the guilt that I felt, or even the emotional connection I felt towards her. It was the impulsive "I can't" that came out of my mouth in the face of another human's vulnerability. It was the dissonance I felt within me as I decided whether or not to help this woman. Certainly, we all must keep ourselves safe; I know that. My book, Familiar Strangers, is all about being aware of the dangers that may be present from the people we let into our lives. This is about being cognizant of the wall that we have built up around us, that is preventing us as humans from connecting with one another. As social beings, we thrive off of relationships with one another, yet we live in a world where we walk side by side, but could easily be worlds away. In our immersion in our mobile devices, in our rush, and in our fear, we are systematically isolating ourselves from one another. We are breaking down bridges and shutting off doors that allow us to empathize and bond with one another. When I look at the world, I wonder how many problems could be solved, and how many deaths could be prevented, and how many social assistance programs could be implemented if we simply spent 3 minutes with another person...
I leave you with this Upworthy video of an amazing photographer who is able to elicit empathy from strangers on a city street. It shows how amazing the human connection could be if we nurtured it.
If you liked this post, LIKE me on Facebook or Subscribe!
If you loved this post, SHARING is caring :)
If you have any thoughts about this post, please LEAVE A COMMENT below.