“Are you OK?”
Sometimes, it feels as if we all are walking around wrapped in a blanket of anonymity, almost invisible. We interact with people, but we don’t see them and they don’t really see us.
So I was surprised when the homeless man at Starbucks asked in a worried voice if I was OK. He had ordered a cup of hot water, I had ordered a cold drink and a warm muffin, which I had just offered to him and he’d accepted gratefully.
I didn’t know what he meant at first, until I realized that the tremor in my left hand was pretty bad. I hastened to tell him that no, I wasn’t nervous, it’s just a tremor. He asked if it was Parkinson’s Disease, and I said no, and left.
I think he’s the one with Parkinson’s. I recognized the shuffle when he walked. I’m sure he wanted to talk, but I was tired and late for an appointment, and wasn’t up for a conversation.
But I haven’t stopped thinking about him and the kind way he asked about me. People often notice my tremor and then look away quickly, hoping I didn’t notice them noticing. I usually do. If you’ve ever been in a position when people might stare at you — a disability or an assistive device — you can’t miss it. It’s the abrupt glance away that betrays them.
The young woman at the Starbucks counter knew my name — she’d asked for it for my order — but she pretended not to notice when I struggled to take bills and change out of my wallet. I was tired and thirsty, and both make my hands shake more.
The guy who handed me my drink pretended not to notice when I almost dropped it. Only the homeless person wearing slippers and a ragged bathrobe in the middle of the afternoon noticed and asked about my welfare.
Today is the beginning of the month of Nissan, which means that Passover is just two weeks away. We will sit at our Seders and tell an ancient story, the birth-saga of the Jewish people. We will celebrate moving from constriction to freedom.
Despite the hopeful ending of the Passover story, I will not be freed from my tremor, and the homeless man will still be sick and homeless. We carry our burdens with us. But every once in a while a stranger will take a moment to be kind, to give away a muffin, or to ask if you’re ok, and the world becomes a little brighter.
Ari Shapiro said:
As you said, we all carry our own burdens, sometimes silently.