“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ~Herman Melville
This Monday, I took my car into Les Schwab to have my screw-impaled tire repaired and was surprised to find myself in a heartfelt interaction with a stranger that would serve as an unexpected reminder of how easy it is to forget someone else’s humanity in the midst of life being all hustle-y and bustle-y.
Because as I was sitting in the corner reading about sex and pleasure — making all the men folk around me uncomfortable with my choice in subject matter — I noticed an argument taking place outside the store between a woman and one of the men working there.
I don’t know what the altercation was about specifically, though it appeared to be something related to the fact that this woman had parked her truck and large trailer in the parking lot of the store overnight and was waiting for the place to open so she could have a tire repaired.
The back of the truck was full of quite the assortment of items, sort of haphazardly tossed together in the truck bed, and the trailer that extended behind the truck was rather long and was taking up multiple parking spots.
The man with whom this woman was arguing — while her young son looked on, mind you — was clearly not pleased with the way she had parked her vehicle(s) and was not particularly kind with regard to her tire needs, even as she explained that she needed the tired repaired so that she could continue on her road trip and get the hell out of his way.
Ultimately, this man came inside the store and called the police on this poor woman, who had obviously been traumatized by the situation and was so clearly not a threat to this man or his safety or the store in general and just wanted to have her tire fixed and get on with her day.
As the woman came into the store hoping to retrieve her tire and just move on (I still don’t know exactly how the technicians ended up with the tire through all of this), none of the men working in the Les Schwab would even acknowledge her existence.
I watched her sort of meander about in front of the service desk trying to get someone’s attention, shaking, upset, holding back tears, while every other person in the store around her — customers and employees alike — pretended not to notice her standing there, with an adorable, docile puppy on a leash at her feet and, again, her young son outside in the parking lot at a safe distance, waiting to see where this would lead.
I’ll admit that in spite of how the situation tugged at me to do something, my first instinct was to bury my head in my book and keep to myself.
After all, a trip to Les Schwab at 7am on my day off was already a pain in my ass and I just wanted to get out of there and back home as quickly as humanly possible.
But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t pretend not to see what was happening. And so, I stood up, walked over to this woman standing alone — who was clearly frightened and angry and hurt — and I asked her if I could give her a hug. I explained that I didn’t know what the situation was, but that she wasn’t alone, and that I would be over in the corner reading my book and she shouldn’t hesitate to interrupt me if she needed my help.
We hugged, she cried and thanked me, and I returned to my seat across the store. A few minutes later, another woman who had been waiting for her vehicle to be serviced also stood up and walked over to the lady with her dog to offer more support and an additional hug.
And guess what? Two hugs later, the energy in the store had shifted.
One of the employees who had not been involved in the earlier altercation checked in with the woman, after she’d spent the previous 15-20 minutes being ignored, trying to ask for help, wondering what the hell was happening with her tire. He even comped the cost of the repair.
Eventually, her tire was returned to her and she was able to drive away safely with her teenage son in the passenger seat next to her. Before she did, she turned around to wave what I interpreted as a “Thank you” in my direction.
Not even three minutes later, four policeman showed up to deal with a situation that — in my humble opinion — did not even require one. FOUR. I was confused and surprised and, frankly, mad about the whole thing
There is more to this story I could tell. More about race and gender and privilege and all of that. But I won’t. Because I honestly don’t feel like I’ve fully processed that part of what occurred that morning or that I could write about it eloquently at this time.
Instead, I want to use this story about my unexpected encounter in a Les Schwab earlier this week to remind us all — myself included — that sometimes stopping to acknowledge another person’s humanity in the midst of an otherwise uncomfortable situation can make all the difference.
And to implore us all — again, myself included — to not be bystanders to other people’s pain.
To ask that we make contact with our fellow humans, even when it’s not convenient to do so.
Because we are more alike than we are different.
Have a great weekend, you guys. Go out there and hug a stranger if you feel so inclined. You might just be pleasantly surprised by what happens next.
And if I haven’t convinced you, then read this article by the wonderful writer, Alexandra Franzen, about how what you do matters. Because even the smallest, most seemingly-insignificant things can make a big difference in someone else’s day. I promise.