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“Hello… Are You All Right?”

tumblr_m0bepo6OMA1r8u69vI have a cold today—I’ve had it since Saturday.  I didn’t sleep well last night due to impersonating a human faucet.  But I need to be at work for my late shift—in at 1 PM and out at 8 PM.  So, in order to cheer myself up, I go to a local diner for lunch.  I eat alone, reading my Kindle on my iPhone and when I am finished, I have about ten minutes to spare before I have to drive the rest of the way to work.

I walk to my car, unlock it, and get in, closing the door.  I notice vaguely that my car is facing an old, battered white pickup in the parking lot and that there is an older man sitting in it.  Then I pull out my iPhone, fire up the Kindle, and work on finishing my chapter.  Sometime in the reading, I pause.  Because I feel fairly crummy and my eyes have that tired, burning I-have-a-cold feeling to them, I shut them briefly and slump, leaning my head back against the head-rest.  I sigh.

I straighten a bit and go back to reading from my Kindle app.  And a moment later, there is movement to my left and a soft tapping at the glass of my driver-side window.  I glance up, surprised, and see that it is the old man who had been in the pickup truck.  He smiles carefully—I am sure that any man approaching a single woman in a parking lot must be acutely aware that he might be perceived as possibly a threat—and says, “Hello… are you all right?”  His voice is kind.  His teeth are false.

I realize suddenly that I must have looked deeply unhappy—head bowed (you can’t see I am reading from the outside), then resting my head back against the seat and slumping.  Alone in the car, aimless, after being alone in the restaurant.

I open the window a little and smile.  “Oh, thank you!” I say.  “I’m fine, really, I just have a cold and so I’m a little draggy.  But thank you so much for checking on me.  That was really kind of you!”

He lingers a moment to be sure I am not putting on a brave face.  He says, “You just seemed… worried.”

I show him my iPhone Kindle book. He smiles, relieved.  I smile back and thank him again.

He heads back to his battered old white pick-up and starts it up.  I wave and he waves and we smile again before he pulls away, off to do whatever was part of his day.

Apart from having an annoying cold, I am okay today.  But what if I had not been?  What if I had been sitting in that parking lot because I was afraid to go home, because my partner abused me?  What if I was dealing with a death or a severe illness, or fear for a child who was in trouble with drugs?  The possibilities are so limitless—and fortunately for me, I was really okay.

But if I had not been, that moment of kindness could have literally been a lifesaver.

Thank you, old man in the white pickup.  I don’t even know your name.  And you don’t know mine.  But I think I will remember you for a long time.

Sometimes, being an active bystander isn’t about intervening in a huge, scary fight or stopping a date rape cold or helping someone struck by a car.  Sometimes, being an active bystander is simply being… kind.  Simply noticing other people and then having the courage to go up to them and ask…

“Hello… are you all right?”

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