I push the cart, hurriedly, into the 99 cents store.
“Claudia” I hear a voice calling.
I look up to see an old man, stooped over his cart, in line at the checkout. It takes me a moment to focus and recognize his face.
I saved a man’s life once, years ago, and that man is now in front of me. It wasn’t a grand gesture, I didn’t run into a house on fire, I simply walked into work one day and saw one of my dishwashers sitting outside, an unhealthy shade of grey on his face, and asked if he was ok.
“I feel weird. There is a tightness in my chest” he replied.
“I am calling an ambulance.”
“I don’t have money for an ambulance” he said feebly.
“We are going to worry about the money later. I am calling an ambulance.”
The day after, his grown-up children came to the restaurant to tell me their father had been in the midst of a heart attack when I dispatched him to the hospital, and if I hadn’t insisted he would have died. They were very grateful. I didn’t feel like a hero, I just did the logical thing anybody in my position would have done. I never gave it much of a second thought. Jose came back to work, eventually, and now there he was, in front of me, exchanging pleasantries, inquiring about my life.
On a day when I felt overworked, tired and particularly hormonal, it felt as if life had sent me a reminder that life it is worth living, that, even when we don’t think about it, we can make a difference.
Within both industries where I spent most of my working life, I sometimes mentored girls, I encouraged a few, from less than privileged backgrounds, to study; I offered promotions; I prodded them to think bigger; I negotiated better deals for them. I never did it to receive thanks (although some did extend their gratitude), to earn a medal or to be praised. I did it because it was the logical thing to do, the right thing to do and, in the process, I made a difference.
I realized, that day, in a 99 cent store, that, over the course of a life, our actions can be likened to solid bricks that, on their own, don’t mean much but, cemented together, end up building walls. Some of us build walls, some entire houses and a few go on to build whole cities. But, whatever our contribution, doing the logical thing, doing what we feel is right, provides meaning to our lives. Brick by single brick.
Dedicated to all the ones who, in the early hours of Sunday morning, made a difference inside a nightclub in Orlando. To all the victims’ families and to the LGBT community at large, our deepest sympathy and our support.
Image unearthed by Eddie C.