The Kindness of a Stranger
I was power walking up Broadway in New York City last Tuesday, when something went terribly wrong. The world started spinning. I literally couldn't see straight.
It was a hot day. I'd been on a plane for six hours. Nothing to eat. Five cups of coffee. Not much sleep the night before. In my life, what else is new? This had never been enough to knock the globe off its axis.
You know what people say about New York: the jungle. I went into a convenience store and found two dollars in my purse for a drink. No one asked me why I kept covering one eye and then the other, trying to get something into focus.
I took the drink outside and managed to get it open and take a sip, but the world kept spinning. I sat on the stoop in front. To the extent that I could think, I was terrified.
And then a woman came up to me. I don't know what she looked like, how old she was, what color her skin was. I only remember her voice coming through the fog, asking me if I was OK. I wasn't. Do you need help, she asked. I do.
As I sat on that stoop, literally collapsing, I heard her call an ambulance. I heard a voice full of calm and compassion. I heard her describe the corner, say no, she didn't know what was wrong, that she had just come across a woman at the corner and would stay with her until the ambulance came, would make sure I didn't hit my head or hurt myself.
And she did.
I think she sat down next to me. I know she spoke kindly to me through the fog and the terror.
I was carrying a purse full of credit cards and money.
Instead, she sat with me and protected me until the ambulance arrived. You might say she saved me. That's what I think.
There's not much chance of her reading this. But it's the only way I have to say what is in my heart.
In my life, I have been badly hurt by strangers. I have learned to live with my fear, but never to conquer it. I am not an optimist by nature. In my life, things have not always turned out for the best.
For many years, I thought that if only I worked hard enough, did enough people enough favors, piled up the IOUs and the private numbers, I could somehow protect my loved ones. Of course, it isn't so. There is no amulet, no Rolodex big enough, no place safe enough.
I wasn't worried about myself when I went out for my power walk; I was thinking of the friend I was going to visit, who had been through a difficult time with her health, and who would, an hour later, be by my side in the emergency room.
I worry too much, and sometimes I worry about all the wrong things. I don't trust, I verify.
But sometimes, there is nothing else. Sometimes, our fate is in the hands of a perfect stranger, who we never get to thank. This is the best I can do. Thank you. And God bless you.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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