When I leave for work at a particularly late time in the morning I’m almost certain to pass by a wonderfully gray old lady who stands on a corner, resting on her walker, taking her time to get to the small bus that picks her up and, I assume, drives her to some glorious amusement park for seniors.
Today an ambulance came rushing past me as I left my apartment, so much noise, and when I turned onto the old lady’s block it had stopped there, right in front of her waiting spot, and I thought, oh, no. The EMTs were out, organizing stretchers and talking to a woman I didn’t recognize. I tried not to look, but I am human, and when the stranger-woman pointed the EMTs in a direction I followed their gaze and saw my little old lady sprawled out flat on her back in the doorway of her building, the walker cast aside and upended. She was awake, though, and talking.
In cities we are so often dependent on neighbors, on strangers, on services we never think we’ll need until the moment right before we realize we do. Over the weekend I was violently ill and B. still has his broken foot and I thought, the night I couldn’t sleep from delirium and dehydration, we have never been more vulnerable than we are right now.
I like to think my lady’s name is Edna or Millie or Grace or Anne, and that her great grand children are with her at her hospital bed right now, and that her own children are at home cooking her favorite meal, and that there are flowers waiting for her. But of course she has her own name and family and has lived more lives than I can imagine and probably hates flowers and would likely scorn me for making up stories about her. I hope she knows I do it out of love. I hope she knows we have all been more vulnerable than we care to remember, and that it’s that shared experience that binds us.