I went to Florida in the beginning of January with my parents to visit cousins who lived there. On our second day, we invited the family over to our small rented bungalow for a glass of wine. We had cheese but no crackers to go with the wine so while my parents were having a rest, I decided to run out and grab some.
It was a cold. overcast day and I pulled on my coat from home (the one that helps me get around in sub-zero weather – a bit overdressed, but I was chilled). I let myself out the back door into a grid of residential streets. The area was an interesting mix of tropical gardens, decay, and modest little bungalows adorned with twinkling lights and Christmas decorations. I walked deeper into the neighbourhood and lost track of time.
When I felt a few drops of rain, I remembered I was supposed to be getting crackers. I hurried to the closest major street to find a store, but there was only a 7-Eleven – and not a saltine to be found – so I started on a brisk walk to a bigger grocery store ‘down the road’.
i crossed wide avenues with empty storefronts, and walked along streets where houses had boarded up windows and yards were surrounded by chain link fences. The distance was greater than I thought and I realized that if I wanted to get to the supermarket and back by the time family arrived, I had to pick up the pace. I started jogging (probably my least favourite activity and something I rarely do).
I’d been loping along for about half a block when I saw a young woman come out of a house up the street. She turned in my direction and as we came closer, I slowed down to a brisk walk, prepared to gasp out a hello in passing.
She stopped when I was a few feet away, lifted her head phones from her ear and asked if I was all right. Surprised, I looked around. The horizon ahead and behind me was empty. I turned back and saw that she was assessing me: I was a woman in an empty, neglected suburb, running along the sidewalk with a flat, unathletic gait, inappropriately dressed for exercise in a heavy winter coat. That picture didn’t quite add up: was I in distress? was I running from something, or someone?
She was calm and alert and seemed ready to act. Had I said, “I’m in trouble”, I’m convinced she would have tried to help me.
I assured her that I was just running late – and tried not to gush in appreciation as I thanked her. I saw her eyes flick one last time over me – and around the street, as if checking for problems – and satisfied that things were as I said, she replaced her headphones and went on her way.
This post will probably never reach her, but I still wanted to put out a thank you to the young woman who had her eyes open, who stopped and checked in when she saw something that didn’t seem quite right. This is what keeps us safe – and more important, it’s what keeps us well – and connected – even as strangers.