A few years ago, an elderly couple fell in front of my car. I was at the intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax, waiting for the light to change so I could continue east.
The couple was elderly and tentative. I remember thinking that they must not be from around here, since the traffic was scaring them. Who knows what landmark they were trying to get to (The Petersen Auto Museum?), they were cautiously edging their way south on Fairfax, arm in arm, leaning into each other. They weren’t familiar with the timed signals, so by the time the flashing hand stopped flashing and was a red solid GET YOUR ASS ACROSS THE STREET NOW hand, they had only made it halfway across.
They were scared and tried to move faster, though at this point nobody was going to run them over, even when the light turned. But they didn’t know that, their feet shuffled, and whether she tripped on something on the road, or whether she tripped on him, I don’t know.
But the woman went down. In a very dramatic fashion. Turning as she fell to reach back for her husband. It was pretty awful to watch, I can still see the whole thing happening clearly – her arms reaching out to him, him being unable to grab back, unable to stop her, the worst near miss ever.
Amazingly enough, she didn’t hurt herself too badly. Didn’t land straight back, or on her head or anything. Her husband somehow got her up and they trotted the rest of the way to the other side of the street.
The whole thing took five seconds. So fast that I was frozen at the wheel, not able to move. The guy in the car in the right lane beside me got out of his car, but didn’t move further, since the elderly husband already had his wife up and going. There was nothing else for anyone to do, except move forward, because now the light had changed.
So off we all went, and I couldn’t see the elderly couple in my rearview mirror, didn’t know if they stopped at the bus bench to take stock of any injuries, didn’t know if they made it to their destination, though I knew they had made it across. I tried to take comfort in that fact, as opposed to the awful image of her arms reaching out, and him not being able to catch her, and me frozen behind the wheel, not being able to do anything at all.
Yesterday was the fourth blood drive I hosted at my church. It’s so standard procedure at this point that I didn’t bother taking any pictures. Once again, people thanked me for hosting it, but it’s not something that requires thanks. The Red Cross does all the work, provides all the materials. All I do is browbeat my church into letting us hold it once a year. I don’t even have to browbeat people anymore into signing up, they’re all doing it willingly. For every person that was a no show, there was a walk in.
I finally managed to wiggle in to donate myself in the 2pm hour, and soundly beat the Red Hemoglobin Machine O’ Death with a personal best of 14.7 (12.5 is passing.) The nurse had no problem at all finding a vein, and had no problem getting the needle in the vein, which the staff at Children’s Hospital could take a few tips from, since I’ve been bounced three times there in the past two months when I’ve tried to donate platelets.
I chatted with the nurse while I filled up the bag, and we both sang along to Lady Antelbellum’s “Need You Now” because that’s fun to do while you’re lying on your back with a needle in your arm.
And my iron count is gangbusters. A pint of my blood is now helping other people in the Southern California area, and we collected 28 other usable pints for our fourth blood drive for a total of 29 units.
But that’s not why I think that blood drive happened yesterday.
I had decided that my reward for a successful blood drive and giving a pint of my own blood would be that I would grab a late lunch at Birds on Franklin Boulevard. I like their Mexican Caesar Shrimp Wraps, and I hadn’t been there in forever. I had sent the Bloodmobile on its merry way at 3:40pm, and I’d have enough time to do a leisurely lunch and be home in time to watch Friend O The Blog Aarti kick some more ass on The Next Food Network Star at 6pm (I get the east coast feed for some reason.)
So I’m walking back up the sidewalk on Wilcox to my car in the parking lot, pretty happy with myself for a successful blood drive, and looking forward to the Mexican Caesar Shrimp Wrap, and I hope parking isn’t a hassle, it should be kinda low key right about now—
And then I hear something. A whump? A thud? A muted cry? I turn around, and about fifty yards away is a woman on her back, her legs and arms flailing in the air, looking to the world like an overstuffed human turtle.
I think there were people farther down the street, but they were walking away from her, and after casting a look behind them to see her, kept on going.
But I can’t.
“Are you okay?” I shout to her, as I run back down the sidewalk to her. She’s now sitting up, very shaky. It appears she’s tripped on the uneven sidewalk. She thinks she’s busted her leg. “Do you want me to call 911?” She says no. She’s all shaky from the shock of it all, I guess. One of the arms on her eyeglasses have snapped, and there’s a scratch on the corner of her eye, and her palm is scraped. I tell her I have some tissues in the car, hang on, I’ll run get them.
So I run to the car to grab the emergency tissues for allergies, and come back to her. She’s sitting on the sidewalk, and people are ignoring her completely as they walk around her. She looks as though she COULD be mentally ill, but she’s not, she’s just one of those sorta downtrodden types, with the grey dried out long hair, puffy body, not great complexion, and a green fanny pack strapped around her waist bulging with a bunch of stuff.
So I sit on the sidewalk with her. “I’m Amy.” “I don’t usually meet people like this.” Is her shaky reply. She doesn’t tell me her name. She doesn’t think anything’s broken anymore. We clean up the scraped parts.
“Where were you headed?” I ask. She was going to take the bus to see her husband, who’s holed up at Kindred Hospital, on Slauson. I vaguely know where Slauson is (south of the 10), and it’s in the opposite direction of where my Mexican Caesar Shrimp Wrap is by a good thirty minutes. One way.
But I’m not annoyed, or put upon. As weird as it is, it feels like God is saying you have time to help this person out. And I respond not by saying whhhhhhyyyyyyyyy. But okay. Sure. No problem. Which is not my usual reaction. Whining is my usual reaction.
“Do you need a ride?” I say, “My car’s parked right over there.” She gingerly says okay, and I help her up, and lead her to my car.
Her name, she tells me finally, is Barbara. Her husband’s name is Ben, and a lot of people know them as “The Bs.” They go to a church over in Granada Hills, but ironically, they’ve visited my church on occasion. They really liked one of the pastors, but they haven’t attended as much since he left, and then her husband has had his health woes. He’s been at this hospital for three weeks, has another three weeks to go, and then will be transferred to a physical therapy place for a few more weeks before coming home.
She was gonna take the bus to get to the hospital. The bus takes an hour, and sometimes she has to wait for it for another hour, so by the time she makes it to the hospital, she has enough time to say hi and bye, before taking the bus back home. She visits him five days a week.
Eventually, we turn onto Slauson, and she points out the Kindred Hospital, and I pull up to the entrance. She says thanks, gets out of the car, and goes on her way. I honestly think she may have been more embarrassed about the whole thing than anything else.
I turn the car around and head back up La Cienega. I don’t know that I’ll have time for Birds now. It’s 4:40pm, I don’t have Tivo, and I really don’t wanna miss Aarti, it’s the Iron Chef America challenge for the episode today, really high stakes.
But I’m talking to God, saying Now what? Are we off on another grand adventure? Is this the start of some really weird stuff? Was this whole encounter really as simple as You telling me to get this woman off the sidewalk and give her a ride to her husband’s hospital? That’s all You want? Because, here I am, already in Obedient Mode. I hosted a blood drive. I gave blood. I picked a woman who fell up off the sidewalk and dropped her off at her husband’s hospital. Anything else?
Maybe I’ll have time to stop by Arby’s. I could get cheesesticks. Not quite the same thing as a Mexican Caesar Shrimp Wrap, but still a bit of a reward.
Hey, a reward. Now I start to wonder do I get a reward for being obedient!? Was this a test!? And now that I’ve passed it, something amazing will happen? Like how in the fairy tales, you help someone, they turn out to be a magic fish who grants you three wishes? Or Baucis and Philemon, entertaining strangers who turned out to be Zeus and Hermes, who then saved them in a Greek myth that bears more than a faint resemblance to Noah and the Ark?
While it’s human nature to wish for and hope that I be rewarded for doing good, the truth of the matter, of my life, and what being a Christian is about, is obedience without expecting a reward, or blessings or whatever. Life will simply go on the same way it would have had I not stopped to help. The only thing different is that there’s no huge guilt trip for NOT stopping to help. I didn’t help the elderly couple all those years ago. I helped a woman today. Maybe I’ve erased a cosmic debt I didn’t even know I had.
This life is about obeying and continuing. Obeying and continuing. If it sounds dreary, that is my cynicism creeping in. It’s not been a great year so far.
Another way to look at it is that I treated someone the way I would want to be treated. If I fall down in front of you, you’d BETTER stop and help me. You’d BETTER offer me a ride, because you’re just a dick if you don’t.
When I was telling my co-worker the story today, she stopped me, “You didn’t really let her in your car, did you?” “Of course I did, why wouldn’t I?” “I dunno, the way I was raised, it was never to let a strange person in your car.”
I wanted to say back, “I dunno, the way I was raised, I help someone if they need it.” But that would be snarky and then I see that elderly couple falling on Wilshire and Fairfax, and me frozen behind the wheel and I dunno. Maybe I'll carry that cosmic debt forever. I dunno.
I do manage to make it to Birds after all. And if I only eat half of the Mexican Caesar Shrimp wrap, hassle the waiter to bring me the check in a hurry and take the rest home, I can make it home in time to watch Aarti win her challenge. Hilariously, the secret ingredient she has to work with is shrimp.
So no, we didn’t have that blood drive so we could collect blood. We didn’t have it so I could beat the hemoglobin machine. And we didn’t have it so I could sing Lady Antebellum with the nurse.
All of that effort was so I could be in the right place at the right time so I could be there when a woman fell, so I could pick her up and drive her to visit her husband in a hospital thirty minutes away.
God can be really weird sometimes.