I left work tonight and expected the usual. Go onto 3rd and Columbia. Wait for the 71 bus. Bitch about how slow it was taking. IRC. Tonight would be different. A woman came up to me and asked me if buses ran to the University District from there. Since I was going there, I answered yes. She looked like of upset, so I asked a fateful question. "Are you ok?"
She was in pain. She just got out of the hospital and she needed a prescription filled to take care of it. She couldn't afford it. I asked how much it was. It was $18. I made a deal with her. I didn't want to give her cash, being the cynical person that I was, but if the drug store in the district was open, I'd pay for it.
We got on the bus. She was crying the whole time. Halfway up Stewart St though she suddenly remembered that she had to go to a drug store in Ballard; it couldn't get filled anywhere else. She was only going to the district to try to sell back a book that she had bought at University Bookstore.
Around the Mercer intersection, she started whispering. She couldn't see me, but I watched her lips move. "Please God, Please," she was pleading. The passenger sitting a row in front of me and I talked for a bit. We made a deal of sorts; I would raid the cash machine on 45th and she would accompany her to Ballard and make sure she got to the store ok.
When we got off the bus, I put my arm around her to help comfort her. She held my shoulder so tight that I was in pain, as she squeezed to get rid of hers. I got the money and we exchanged first names. Oddly enough, I remember the name of the girl who was helping the woman (Emily) but not the woman's name herself.
As I left the scene, she asked me one more time for my address so she could pay me back. Once again I refused. I don't know why. Maybe it was because she obviously needed the money much more than I did. Maybe it was because I was afraid that she would come back needing more help, help that I would be unable to give. Maybe it was remembering the Hebrew School teaching that the best kind of charity is that which neither the sender nor the recipient know each other. I don't know.
What I do know is that I will never forget this. I will never forget her thanking me over and over again. I will never forget feeling like I may have pulled her back from the cliff... and I will never forget the image I kept thinking of later that night, of her out in the streets- lonely, broke, and in pain while I wrote smug little posts on the net.
I can't take the credit for doing it; this was a moment that my grandmother inspired. I asked myself halfway through the trip as what she would have done. I don't think there is any question; she would have done what she could have done to help. She lived that way during her life; after her death she helped one more. She did what heroes are supposed to do- inspire people to look beyond their current annoyances, their current frustrations, and do the right thing... and to make you wonder if next time you couldn't do just a little more.
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