Last week I had lunch with a new friend. It was a raw, honest conversation that bolstered our new bond. It also made me acutely aware of the ways we all suffer, how much we need one another, and how we can want that least when we need it most. He had to get back to work but as I left the restaurant and walked down the block, we were already texting one another, him to apologize for running off, me to chide him for not telling me I had flax seeds in my teeth.
I had just hit ‘send’ when I heard the screech of a set of tires. I looked up to see a jeep mid-intersection, mid-right-turn, about 6 inches from a crossing pedestrian. And as I (and everyone in a half-block radius) registered what had just happened, the jeep remained motionless while the pedestrian, a woman frozen in place, broke down. I walked into the intersection, took her by the arm and led her, sobbing by now, to the sidewalk where she leaned against a lamppost.
The jeep pulled over and just sat for a few minutes while the woman and I stood there, sort of holding one another up, breathing deeply, and fully realizing what could have just happened. This would only happen to me, she said, I’ve just come from radiation. And my own eyes welled in response to her thinking she could be responsible for this near-miss. And maybe even her cancer?
Then the driver got out and came over, visibly shaken himself, and said, I am so sorry, I can’t believe this just happened, I didn’t even see you. To which she responded without a hint of anger or self-righteousness, It’s alright, nobody got hurt. The three of us just stood there, a little triangle of basic goodness, feeling our own pain and that of the two other people in front of us. Raw and honest.
Had this unfolded slightly differently (and no one in New York City would be particularly surprised if it had), the same near-miss might have led to a screaming match about who was right and who was wrong between two people (and any number of onlookers) who felt vulnerable, fearful, and painfully aware of the difference a half a second or a half a foot can make. And the opportunity to allow those feelings and that awareness, and the choice to be kind to one another, would have been lost.
In those few moments, three people – three strangers – were there with one another. To hold that discomfort. And after those moments passed, we went off in our separate directions.