Warmed by an act of kindness of a perfect autumn day
The man in the wheelchair had a problem.
He beckoned us as we walked west on the sidewalk. My wife, Lisa, and I were on the north side of Broadway, just across from the Middle School.
The man was also on the sidewalk, rolling east.
It was just past noon on a quintessential Indian summer October day. The sky was rich blue, the air calm, and the sunshine warmed exposed skin in that way peculiar to mid autumn — none of the unpleasant prickliness of summer heat, yet the warmth was somehow insubstantial, as things are which cannot last much longer.
The man explained his dilemma. Solving it seemed simple enough.
A safety pin, which he said normally is attached to his shirt, had gotten stuck in the glove covering his left hand.
He asked me to free the pin from the glove.
Which would have been a trifling task had the glove been fashioned from a fabric other than wool.
But the stout wool had somehow gotten twisted round the little metal loop spring at the base of safety pin, where the two branches (one pointed, the other with the protective plastic clasp) pivot.
I twisted and yanked and pulled on the pin for probably three minutes.
Long enough, anyway, that I became convinced I was going to end up with the pin’s sharp end impaled in my hand (or worse) before I had extricated it from the glove’s tenacious grasp.
And I hate to prick myself with a pin. That can really smart.
So I gave up and handed the glove over to Lisa.
About then a boy rode across Broadway on a bicycle.
He looked to me to be about 12. Or perhaps a precocious, gangly 10.
Tall enough, at any rate, that the bike, which was a BMX style with 20-inch tires, seemed almost too small for his frame. When he pedaled his knees splayed in manner that looked awfully uncomfortable — rather like a parent who goes to meet his first-grader’s teacher after the first nine weeks, wedges himself into one of the kids’ chairs and then can hardly get untangled without pulling his ACL or MCL or tearing his meniscus, whatever that is.
The boy had a brief conversation with the man in the wheelchair. But I was concentrating on Lisa’s progress with the pin (and hoping she wouldn’t stab herself) and so didn’t hear what the two were talking about.
Lisa finally separated the pin from the glove by some motion that I didn’t understand when she explained it to me but apparently involved cunning rather than brute force.
I handed the pin to the man and he thanked us.
We resumed our walk. I felt the tiny thrill you get for helping another person in some small way, an exchange in which the only currency is a few kind words.
But then, just past Dairy Queen, the boy on the bicycle coasted to a stop at the curb beside us.
“Thanks for helping my grandpa,” he said.
Then he rode away, west on Broadway.
Now this is, I’ll concede, a minor anecdote.
I don’t believe, and so I won’t try to convince anyone, that the boy’s expression of gratitude has great significance as a reflection of our society.
But it meant a heck of a lot to me.
The kid didn’t owe us anything.
Almost any person, in our position, would have had a go at grandpa’s safety pin.
That was just common courtesy.
I wonder, though, how many of us would have done what the grandson did. He was only a few feet away when his grandpa thanked us, so he had to have heard.
Yet the boy still felt compelled to follow us up the street and thank us again himself, even though it seemed clear to me that he had to overcome his shyness to do so.
I felt a little warmer all the rest of the way home.
And the sensation had nothing to do with the glorious autumn sun.
Quite a lot of Libyans (and no doubt the relatives of some airline passengers) who endured the man’s sometimes violent whims over the decades seem pleased at his demise, anyway. And their reactions, unlike mine, bear the validity of personal experience.
Yet even though a compelling case can be made that Gadhafi deserved his fate, the manner of his death didn’t seem to me something to smile about.
Perhaps I’m a tad squeamish, but I turn away when the shaky, but obviously bloody, scenes of his final moments come on the TV.
I’m not offended that people celebrate the death of an evil person.
But it troubles me whenever the killing of a person seems to resemble a sporting event, lacking only a scoreboard and vendors hawking licorice ropes and popcorn.
Such spectacles trivialize the sanctity of human life.
While watching (briefly) the news coverage from Libya, I thought about the photograph that many hunters pose for after they’ve killed a buck or bull.
You know the scene I mean: the hunter kneeling behind the animal, the rifle, like as not, propped against the carcass.
These photos bear a passing resemblance to the videos documenting the killing of Gadhafi.
With one, rather significant, difference.
An elk is not a person.