I’m a relatively upbeat person but recently I’ve been feeling a bit low- external forces are largely to blame for my malaise. The Germans have a single word that captures this sort of emotional experience- weltschmerz - which loosely translates to feelings of melancholy and world-weariness, the result of how the physical world stands in contrast to how you imagine it can or should be.
I work from home and public radio provides a constant and steady voice in the background, which I had found comforting. Now I don’t know where the “Firefighters Rescue Cat Stuck in a Tree” kind-of-segments have gone, but they have been replaced by a constant stream of stories that highlight the very worst elements of human behavior. The line-up a few days ago was predominantly: xenophobic voices from the political sphere (both here and abroad), the Syrian Civil War, the unstoppable refugee crisis, the curtailment of constitutional guarantees in a handful of states… and Miami, being inundated with sea water, is staring to sink. It’s a tough world, but there have to be some narratives that highlight our best selves. So…Today I’d like to share a random act of kindness I witnessed while pulling out of a Trader Joe’s parking lot. It happened a few months ago, but it really touched me and I’d like to tell you what happened, so please indulge me.
Like I said, I was in the parking lot, about to turn onto Colorado Blvd. when I saw a woman (probably in her early 90s) driving a large car. There was a wheelchair icon on her license plate, her reverse lights were on, and she was waiting for an opportunity to pull out of her spot. Naturally I gave her the go-ahead gesture with my hand, because you have to be a real POS to hit the gas pedal in a situation like that…
Several minutes passed, and I was still waiting behind the woman’s car. It became clear to me that she was too scared to make the turn (there are 4 lanes of traffic in each direction at this particular intersection of the boulevard). Drivers behind me started honking their horns, some people started shouting out of their windows, and the whole area was quickly getting backlogged.
I put my car in park, but instead of going up to the elderly woman to see if she was okay (which I now regret), I went to the car behind me. I explained the situation and told that driver we should start making u-turns and back traffic out onto the side street, which she agreed was a good idea.
As I was getting back into my driver’s seat, I saw a burly muscular man (maybe 6’ 3” or 6’ 4” and I’m guessing ex-military from his appearance) walk up to the elderly woman’s car, at which point my heart started racing. I can’t explain my initial reaction, but I started to panic. Was he angry? Was he going to bash her window in? Shoot her? Maybe I’ve watched too many movies - like that Michael Douglas one where he looses it on the highway and goes “postal.”
Anyway, the ex-military guy gently tapped on the old woman’s window. She rolled it down and they spoke for about a minute. Then the man walked across Colorado Boulevard and stopped all four traffic lanes by putting his hands up and waving them above his head (it was really hard to miss him). The traffic came to a halt, a complete stand still. The man then turned in the direction of the elderly woman and gestured for her to start driving forward, and after a few seconds she made the turn and was on her way.
At that point, everyone in the parking lot started clapping and cheering and it wasn’t because we- who had been stuck in the lot for the better part of a ½ hour- were now free to exit. It was because we witnessed something we don’t see enough of: someone helping someone else, in this case a perfect stranger. Everyone in that parking lot witnessed a random act of kindness. And the incredible feeling from that morning’s event stuck with me all day.
Which brings me to this salad…