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In the middle ………

August 8, 2011

My last few posts have been somewhat heavy. They have been focused on me processing my experience in India.

I talked a lot about people in the middle of the road. And how I passed many, many of them by.

Then just last week, I went to dinner with a couple of girlfriends from college. We were meeting at the mall – at my beloved Cheesecake Factory.

I had a few errands to run and I managed to squeeze them in between my dentist appointment and my dinner date. As usual, I was using every second – and was in a rush to not make my friends wait. And to order the spinach dip. Yum.

I got a fabulous parking spot. Yeah me. Changed into my new shoes. Touched up my lipstick. And headed in.

And I started to walk toward the mall in a rush. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a very old man walking very slowly.

He didn’t seem disoriented really. He probably knew right where he wanted to go – but his body was a bit slow on the uptake. So his feet shuffled across the blacktop.

The man did not have a cane to steady him – only his determination. His shoulders weren’t slumped but you could tell he had lived a long life.

Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop.

I found that my feet began to keep pace with his and I could not help but watch him.

Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop.

Here was yet another person in the middle of the road. He certainly wasn’t begging…..and at a quick glance, he didn’t look like he needed a thing from a stranger.

But I was mesmerized by him.

And then he actually stopped in the middle of the road.

And I realized – so had I.

I just continued to watch him.

Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop.

Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop.

He shuffled right in the middle of mall traffic. People glided around him as if he wasn’t standing in the middle of the road. As if that was the most normal place for him to be. Even the mall police just let him shuffle and then stand.

Finally he made his way to the curb.

“Yeah, right,” his feet seemed to scream out. And his whole body hesitated. Frozen for a moment.

But his mind answered, “we have totally got this.”

His body rocked.

My body rocked.

I wanted so much to rush over and grab his elbow. Hold him steady. And lift him up.

But he didn’t need me. At least I didn’t think he did. And I so much did not want to embarrass him.

He didn’t look around for help. He just rocked and rocked and eventually lifted his heel high enough off the ground to hoist it over the curb. His other foot happily followed.

I breathed a sigh of tremendous relief. He just kept going.

It sounds so silly but I was proud of him. And humbled by him.

It took him 8 times longer than it took me to walk from the parking lot. But he did it. He never quit. Never looked back. Not even once. Never seemed to think, “I am still closer to the car, if I head back now…” Even though he had to know it was going to be tough. Even though, I bet he fully expected that no one would help him. Or maybe he prayed that no one would help him.

And as I thought about that man over the next few days, I came to fully understand and maybe finally believe that there are little ways we can make big differences.

I don’t know if that man needed me to help him or leave him alone.

But I wasn’t so busy being busy that I brushed by him without a thought. I slowed down and saw him. I was ready.

And that is what I want to do more of. Slow down and see what is happening. Respond when I can and wait when I should.

Today I saw a women with a cart full of groceries also shuffling through a parking lot.

This time I did not hesitate. I asked if she needed help. She said no – she was fine. She looked a little startled. But I just smiled and said, “okay”. Then she slowly smiled back.

Next time I think I will ask if someone wants helps. That’s different than needing it somehow.

Anyway, this story is probably coming off as a jumbled mess – but I think I am starting to get it.

There are people in the middle of the road everywhere. Some of them want help; some of them need help. I am sure many of them want to be left alone. They all need to be noticed. We can’t make life better for all of them but maybe we can help a few make their shuffles less of a struggle. We really aren’t going to change the world – but we don’t have to. Just because you can’t change a lifetime doesn’t mean you can’t improve a moment.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Meg permalink
    August 9, 2011 4:15 pm

    When I think of you, I think of such a generous giving soul. When we met on the Siebel trip, you had to bring an extra bag just to carry all the goodies you were bringing back for everyone. I also remember the story of you putting out cold Gatorades for the trash truck drivers on an especially hot day. I’m sure you are feeling guilt for missed opportunities when you were in India, but please know you make the world a better place! More people should take the time to notice the people “in the middle of the road”, myself included! Thanks for the post.

  2. Pam permalink
    August 9, 2011 11:50 am

    Awesome post! Love it! We may not be able to change the lives of others, but our smile and friendly hello (or offer of help) might be the only smiling face they’ve seen all day. And, it is truly amazing how our moments can be changed when others “see” us. And, a changed moment can turn into a changed day. And, a changed day, may turn into a changed week, month, year… πŸ™‚

  3. August 8, 2011 11:38 pm

    It’s not a mess. It’s the beauty of realizing something and it’s cool to read through your jumbled reckoning of it all!

    I agree .. that being conscious enough to see that someone may need help is huge. Whether they really do need it, or accept it is a whole ‘nother topic!

    Great post.

    • August 9, 2011 8:55 am

      It is a mess – it sounds so simplistic to me – when you see someone who might need help, help them. But it’s so easy to ignore the opportunities in front of us. I just don’t want to do that anymore…….

  4. Kirk C permalink
    August 8, 2011 8:51 pm

    We had a similar experience at the gas station recently. Older lady just couldn’t seem to get the hang of operating the pump. She was clearly relieved when we offered to help, even though I *had* worried that she would be insulted by the offer. Sometimes you just have to risk it.

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