By Keith Clark
No sooner had I turned the corner when I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of guilt, as the realization of what I had done began to hit me……
It was a typical day in Monterey, California as the hour struck noon and each employee of our small computer company on Webster St. quickly scurried to find their mid-day sustenance. Lunch hour is a precious commodity to many, I was no exception. While many use it to calm themselves and re-balance before returning to the afternoon’s events, one could always find me moving briskly, in my feeble attempts to make the most of that precious time.
Rather than eat lunch with the rest of the gang, I must have made my own plans that day. I drove about two blocks and waited in the right lane to merge into the two northbound lanes of Del Monte St. There were several cars in front of me, all anxious to get where we were going. As I became the second car in line to merge, my attention was brought to a woman in my peripheral vision on the sidewalk to my right.
She was elderly, hunched over, and wore very thick glasses. Walking slowly towards the car in front of me, she seemed very frail, as if a gentle wisp of wind might topple her over. If memory serves me correctly, she had a cane in one hand to assist her with walking. She approached the car and I couldn’t tell if she needed help or if she was planning on using the crosswalk. These are the kind of observations that run through your mind in mere milliseconds, but I was busy. I was on a mission.
The car in front of me began to pull away, and as my opportunity came, I automatically pressed my foot on the gas pedal and pulled away, merging into the northbound traffic. No sooner had I begun to move forward when my gaze turned towards my right passenger window. In a split second I saw directly into her eyes, through her extremely thick glass lenses. Time stopped, and I saw confusion and helplessness in her eyes, with one outstretched hand gesturing towards me, as if she needed help.
No sooner had I turned the corner when I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of guilt, as the realization of what I had done began to hit me. My stomach churned and flipped completely over and stayed there. Time returned to normal as I picked up speed to keep safe in traffic behind me. I had made all of these observations, but not with my direct conscious mind, as that was way too busy stuck in the race against time. A part of my rational mind kicked in and said “Why didn’t you help her? What if she has Alzheimer’s, or is lost, or needs help over the crosswalk?”
The mind always tries to justify, a part of me thought I was obligated to the people behind me in traffic, would they have gotten upset if I had put my car in park and gotten out to help her? Yes, I would have inconvenienced someone else, and they might have honked their horns, and I wasn’t one for confrontation. But what if she really needed help? She is someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother, probably even a great grandmother.
All of this occurred in no more than 3 seconds, from first seeing her approach the car in front of me to ignoring her from the safety of my car, to my immediate pangs of gut wrenching guilt. I spent the next second figuring out how to make amends for my horrible act of inhumanity. My brain kicked in and reminded me I could turn right and do a full circle around half of the park, ending up in the same spot where I had just seen her. With determination I methodically calculated I could probably make it there within about 90 seconds flat, and I turned right.
90 seconds is a long time to think of all the reasons you should feel guilty or not, and ponder what you could have done differently. As slow as she walked, I was desperately hoping she would still be there – but would the motorists behind me have done the same as I, or would they have offered her help? Clearly, I would not leave this to chance at this point.
Winding through the park I made another two right turns and approached the light, peering over the cars in front of me, hoping to get a glimpse of her. She should be here, I made it in less than 60 seconds, that wasn’t enough time for her to cross the street without aid! Glancing not only to my right, but also across the street in front of me, and to the left where she could have crossed – I saw nobody. I had a clear view, and there were no trees or foliage to cloud my view. She was gone.
My heart sank. I had blatantly (though not intentionally) sailed right past a person in need, shielded and safe in my metal can, caught up in my own version of reality. I felt sick and disgusted with myself, and began to cry. How shameful I felt. Even more so, I began to marvel at and try to comprehend how did she disappear within 60 seconds? It didn’t seem possible. Even if the car behind me stopped, put it in park, got out, engaged her in conversation, and helped her into their vehicle, surely more time would have passed. Surely there would have been some cars backed up waiting. Surely that must have been what happened? I was dumbfounded, and disappointed that my opportunity for redemption was gone. Above all that I was awestruck that she seemed to have vanished into thin air.
On that day I vowed that never again would I be so selfish and unaware. I’ll never forget her face, most particularly her eyes – looking right at me, burning into my soul. It’s not something you can ever forget.
And while I had the chance that day to be her angel, it turns our that in the end, she was mine. She reminded me that we are never too busy, the world is never moving too fast to stop and help someone.
The next time you see someone that may need help, please consider taking a moment to separate yourself from the world, and see if they need assistance.
For you just may find, that in taking the time…..you may become someone else’s angel.