It was the day after one of the gazillion snowstorms we’ve had this winter. Over a foot of snow had been dumped on the East Coast. The freezing temps that followed made it impossible for us to dig ourselves out. Street corners were unnavigable. Strollers rendered useless. Buses were infrequent—and even when they did come, they were packed. Cabs were few and far between.
I was safe and warm in my minivan, headed to pick up my kids from school. I was stopped at a red light when I saw you.
You were standing on the corner, holding your toddler-filled stroller steady with one hand, hailing a cab with the other. You looked cold. And exasperated. Your arms weak with the weight of too-many bags. Your daughter, pink pom-pommed hat masking nearly her entire face, was covered with at least three blankets. She still looked cold. She may have been sleeping. I couldn’t quite tell.
I had the thought that I could pull over, pick you both up, and take you wherever you needed to go. After all, I had car seats at the ready, and I wasn’t sure what you planned to do with your toddler in the cab. Whatever it was, it likely wouldn’t be as safe. Sure, I would be a little late to pick up my kids. But they’d be fine.
I could’ve pulled over. But I didn’t.
Even though I’ve stood where you’re standing. I’ve tried to manage my three small children under less-than-ideal circumstances. I’ve relied on the kindness of strangers. Not because I wanted to—no, I’m far too proud—but because I had to. And simply, because they offered.
Back when it was warm, I was struggling to get my massive stroller up the three steps to my front door. We live on a busy city street. A young man driving by saw my plight. He pulled over to the side of the road, double parked, exited his car, and helped me hoist my stroller (kids included) up the steps and into the door. Just as quickly as he came, he was gone. I was left speechless. And beyond grateful.
In a world where we tend to keep to ourselves and hardly stick our necks out for anyone—where we prioritize self, screens, and space over community, there’s nothing more heartening than the kindness of strangers. In college, I had an ongoing debate with my then-boyfriend over whether there are any truly altruistic acts. My stroller-savior moment is about as close as it comes.
See? I’ve been you. I am you.
I know what it means when someone lends a hand without asking anything in return. I know how it restores your faith in humanity and makes you feel like you’re raising your children in a world full of good.
I know all that, but I still didn’t pull over to help. The light turned, and I drove on. Because you’re a stranger, after all. And I fell prey to the convenience of carrying on with my day, leaving you to struggle through yours.
And now I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I let complacency win over compassion.
I’m sorry I didn’t give more of myself. That I put my own needs ahead of yours.
I’m sorry that even though we live in a city full of people, I made you feel alone.
I’m sorry that because we live in a city, I had my guard up.
I’m sorry I saw you as a stranger, not a friend.
That I put distance between us.
That I didn’t seize an opportunity to make this cold world of ours a little warmer, a little smaller.
Next time, I will.
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