An icy rain chills us in Portland tonight. My daughter and I stand on the corner waiting for a light. Rain drips down my hair, into my neck, and I shrug deeper in my coat. My daughter’s hand feels like a puckered fish. All I can concentrate on is that I need the interminably long light to turn so that we can race into her Taekwondo class.
I’m so focused on willing the light to turn, on running into a warm room, that I almost don’t see the elderly man on the other side of the street. He is creeping down the crosswalk, an enormous clear plastic bag floating over his head like a strange astronaut’s helmet, or a jellyfish. I only really notice him after I see a man in a t-shirt racing toward him and catching him by the arm. I wonder why the guy running only has a t-shit on in this weather, and then I notice the old man, notice how weak he looks and I think to myself good, that guy is helping the old man. I would have helped him, but he’s being helped, so . . .
Then the guy in the t-shirt runs off. He runs off and my light turns. I hurry across the street as the elderly man continues his crablike walk down the sidewalk, and I reason with myself. We’re late for my daughter’s class, I don’t have an umbrella, I don’t, I can’t . . .
And then a Pizzicato Pizza minivan pulls up next to the elderly man, the t-shirted guy at the wheel. And I realize that this employee has seen the elderly man from his store window, has left his job, gotten his work van, and offered a stranger a ride home on a night when ice needles spear the ground.
As I open the door to the Taekwondo class, I look back to see the t-shirted guy helping the frail man into the front of the van. I duck into the dry gym and am warmed by the realization that I’ve just witnessed an honest, random act of kindness. Pushed back, with the memory of the rain, is the guilt that it wasn’t mine.