Monday, August 24, 2015

Sidewalk Awakenings

Tonight I ended up doing my nightly walk far differently than normal. My typical walk involves earbuds, volume high, me mouthing lyrics, and occasionally texting. Tonight as I crossed the street (texting and walking like a millennial) a woman grabbed my arm and warned me to pay attention, as the sidewalks ahead were treacherous. I stopped to acknowledge her advice and I walked slowly next to her as she told me how she'd lived in the neighborhood since she was a child.

She spoke of her house, how it had been built by her father, how she'd raised her own children there, and how she now lived there alone... recovering from cancer. She told me about her treatments, her choices, and her remission. Her bones were more fragile, but walking helped build her strength and her bone density.

She told me about her grandchildren and the changes she's seen over the years.We discussed all of the new owners in our neighborhood. In my mind, we were seeing a new neighborhood blooming from the poverty it had always known. In hers we were seeing a return of what was great about our little corner of the city. The groomed lawns it started with were coming back. People were planting again. Flower beds now bloomed where weeds had once choked out all that was splendid about our blocks of bungalows and postage stamp yards.

Eventually, I found myself walking toward her destination. We stopped to compliment a landlord on his efforts to rehabilitate a long-untended property he obtained. As we walked she mentioned the creeping-Jenny in the sidewalk cracks and how dangerous it was for handicapped people. I found myself walking a step ahead and clearing the weeds for her. It was easy to see how a person's foot could get tangled in a split second and how brutal that could be on a brittle knee or wrist.

"I'm going to the Get-N-Go." she said, as she bent to pick up a lost penny on the sidewalk. I had been heading in the opposite direction, but at the moment it seemed inconsequential. We carried on and she found more and more pennies in the path that she picked up to carefully place in her pants pocket. "They add up, you know." and she winked.

When we finally reached her destination we walked inside. I hastily walked to grab my green tea. As I walked to the cashier she walked to the cafe section to read the newspaper. She sat and made herself comfortable. The employees knew her by name. I had obtained a green tea. She obtained something far greater. Immediately I felt humbled. This woman who collects discarded pennies was part of a neighborhood that no amount of landscaping on my part could buy.

I thanked her for her company, promised to see her again, and headed back toward home alone. As I walked the opposite side of the street I found myself still clearing the sidewalk cracks of noxious weeds. I passed another elderly woman tending her flowers who smiled and said, "they keep coming back, don't they?" she said. "Yes, but it's a great day for pulling weeds!" I replied.

It has been a long time since I've felt that my interactions with others had any significance. Tonight, I can't help but wonder if it all held some worth that I can't quantify. Maybe I've just been so self-involved that I didn't look up from my texts, didn't take out my earbuds to hear, or couldn't imagine anything was more important than my own insignificant tribulations. Regardless, I think I'll go back tomorrow.


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