In the department of random encounters, I experienced another one on a recent trip to Chicago. I’m still thinking about it.
I take a cab from the airport to my hotel. The driver misses the hotel entrance by half a block. “This is fine,” I say.
I step out into the sunshine. Just as I begin pulling my luggage across the quiet, treelined street, I see–or think I see–a startling sight.
A elderly man, well-dressed. On his hands and knees. On the sidewalk.
I run over to him. “Are you okay?”
“No”, he says, his voice shaking. “I fell.” Blood drips from his face onto the cement.
I drop my bags, crouch beside him. “Should I call an ambulance?”
His arms are shaking. “Just need help getting up. I’ve been trying…”
I ask his name. “Okay, Harold. I’ll try lifting you.”
I stand behind him, bend down, and wrap my arms around his chest. “One, two…” After some struggle, I manage to get him standing.
Harold grabs onto my arm, steadying himself. “What are you, my guardian angel?”
I smile at this term I often use, then introduce myself. “Are you sure I can’t call for help? Maybe your doctor?”
He says he happens to have an appointment tomorrow. “Lucky thing, huh?” Harold puts a finger to his dripping nose. “How bad is it?”
I look closely at his wounds, trying to figure if they need stitching. I reach in my bag for a tissue, carefully dab at the cuts. He winces. “Your forehead has a gash. Looks like you smashed your nose.”
“Well there goes my movie contract.”
His joke calms my nerves. I try to clean up the dripping blood.
I retrieve his cane. “Where do you live? Can I call you a cab home?
He names a nearby suburb, 15 minutes away. His car is parked down the block and around the corner. Can I walk with him? he asks
Trepidation. Not sure I can manage that. What if he falls again? “Harold, do you think you can drive?”
“I’ll see how it goes once I get to my car.”
Then, as if on cue, a strong-looking man exits a nearby building. His eyes widen when he sees the two of us. “Need some help?”
Harold says, “This nice woman came to my rescue.”
I explain the situation and my uncertainty about Harold’s condition. The man nods as if to say, Don’t worry, I got this.
Harold thanks me, shakes my hand. I wish him good luck.
* * *
Not until I am in my hotel room, do I notice the blood on my arms.
I scrub at the sink. Surprise tears come. Don’t know why. My brain is still processing what just happened, how I, once again, found myself in the “right place at the right time” to aid a stranger.
I take deep breaths.
A buried memory surfaces. My elderly father walking alone to synagogue on a Saturday morning. He trips and falls face first on the sidewalk.
A stranger comes over to help, waits with him for the EMT to arrive.
When I later hear about this, I picture my father in his suit lying on the sidewalk. I imagine his indignity, the pain, his bruised face. But Dad’s sense of humor puts me at ease. “I’ll just tell everyone I got into a brawl,” he says over the phone. “Good conversation starter at my age.”
* * *
I recently had the pleasure of watching my granddaughter take her first steps. Then fall down. Her father gave her a hand, and she tried again, happily toddling across the floor.
In the midst of this joyful moment, the image of Harold on his hands and knees flashes in my mind. I remember every detail: his thin voice, the feel of his grey sweater vest, blood on his white shirt collar, his dress shoes straining against the sidewalk. His watery blue eyes.
My thumping heart.
I consider the strange timing of the incident, and that, oddly, no one had passed by to help him before I arrived on the scene.
Fall. Just think about how often we use that verb.
Fall from grace. Fall under the influence. Fall off the wagon. Fall into despair. Fall on hard times. Fall for the joke. Fall into a trance. Fall asleep. Fall behind. Fall apart.
Fall head over heels in love.
This can also wound.
Whether metaphorically or physically, we all fall at some point. Let’s hope someone will be around to lend a hand.