Normally, I do the bare minimum when it comes to helping strangers.
I’ll stop to listen to their questions about directions (rarely giving them unless they’re public transportation questions, since I don’t know driving directions in NYC). I’ll move out of the way when a clueless tourist family is hogging the whole sidewalk (you do not receive this gesture if you look like you know better). I’ll give you my seat on the train if you’re old, frail, or pregnant.
But these are all things that any decent human shouldn’t think twice before doing. Anything that requires more effort or a greater investment of time isn’t likely to spur me to act. I’m not proud of that fact about me, but you need to know it to understand why what happened yesterday merits a blog post.
I was on the bus from North Beach to South Beach in Miami Beach, in an area both unfamiliar to me and plagued with construction. A man was leaving the bus and it wasn’t until the guy behind me yelled to him that I noticed he’d dropped his yellow construction vest on the floor.
The one who originally shouted out gave up once the man had gotten off. Normally, I’d leave it at that. Oh, he didn’t hear? Oh, too bad.
Instead, I leapt up, grabbed the vest, left my backpack on my seat, said, “He dropped this!” to get the driver to open the doors, and ran down the sidewalk after the man.
He didn’t hear me until I had caught up with him, at which point he said thanks, and I jogged back to the bus where, luckily, not only had the driver waited for me but another passenger was getting on, so I didn’t feel as bad for holding up the entire bus.
The weird things about this: the rest of the bus passengers didn’t act as if they’d seen me just bounding down the road. I wasn’t concerned someone would steal my backpack when I left. I wasn’t worried the driver would just take off. The guy didn’t seem especially grateful for my act of kindness.
Probably it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe those vests are 50 cents apiece and the guy could easily get a new one at his job without being punished. But I couldn’t help feeling like it was a grander act than I’m used to, and that it wasn’t something I’d usually do in New York.
You could argue that my sense of adventure was heightened by being on vacation, or maybe there’s simply something about the Florida sun that makes people more willing to help fellow humans than the chilly concrete engulfing New York.
You know what I think it was though? That small, nagging feeling I’ve had over the past few days, that this might really be the end of the road for the United States, or even the earth. In random moments, I find myself wondering if we’re finally going to do this, to ruin the world for good, and I’m terrified. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely nothing I can do as a singular citizen to stop what we’re hurtling toward. All I can do is try to live what could be my last moments as well as I can.
I should always do that, I know, threat of nuclear annihilation or no. And I don’t want to give credit to the current administration for prompting me to be a better person. It’s like thanking your abuser for causing some good outcomes despite the abuse (which I have actually, regretfully, done).
Still, regardless of the reason, I did a tiny thing that made a tiny difference in a tiny fraction of the universe, and I’d like to do more of these.