During my run this morning, I spotted a woman struggling to move odds and ends from the back of an apartment building to the front curb. She looked to be in her mid-60’s.
I shouted, “Need help?”
“No, I’m OK,” she said.
I replied, “I’m able-bodied, and I’m right here.”
Within seconds, she was sobbing uncontrollably. The only words I understood were “After 20 years of living here, I’ve been evicted.”
For the next half hour we didn’t say a word. We only lifted and shifted her belongings, none of which were properly packed, to the front of the building.
Old lamps, metal folding chairs, and cleaning buckets, we moved as they were. Toiletries, pots, and pans, we carried in the flimsy plastic bags she’d put them in. Everything else, we tossed into boxes so old and worn I was afraid the bottoms would fall out.
I desperately wanted to ask if she had a place to go or someone to help her.
I didn’t ask, though, because I didn’t want to hear her say, “No. Nowhere and no one.” Then what would I do?
We finished with all the moving and she thanked me. I was relieved when she let me know a friend was coming to pick her up. Hallelujah!
As I turned to leave, she grabbed a tissue from a pocket to blow her nose. As she did, her wig, which was lopsided from hello, fell off her head and onto the ground.
Under normal circumstances I’d have had a hearty, good time of it. In this case, I kept it straight.
She kept a straight face too. She gently reached for her missing piece and, without looking to determine which way was front or back, plopped it sideways onto her head. She didn’t care, and I understood. I myself have lived inside a few desperate periods.
I appreciated her vulnerability, as well as the fact that she hadn’t apologized to me for whatever was happening in her life. Also, she hadn’t tried to make me feel a certain way because of what she was experiencing.
Her honesty was her silence. She offered no pretense, small talk, apologies, or excuses.
I walked home because I no longer had the energy to run. As I walked, I tried to figure out the takeaway from what had just happened. I stumbled upon it a few blocks from my home: Don’t make assumptions.
Everyone on this earth has had a multitude of experiences that contribute, to one degree or another, toward how the person is in that moment you interact with them. When you don’t make assumptions, when you aren’t judgmental, you’re more likely to see the humanity in the person.
If you can occasionally “stop along the way” and talk to people out of your normal realm— and do it with neither previously made nor formed-on-the-spot assumptions—you just might encounter someone or something enriching.