Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another in a Series of Simplistic Tales of Moral Illumination
You step into the world out there, and you don't know what you'll come across.

Tuesday night was rainy and cold. I was on my run after work, contemplating how much I had in me after a hard swim earlier in the day. I like running in the rain, but not at night when it's cold. Six, seven miles. That would be enough.

I was headed down a dead-end street that has houses on only one side, leaving it darker and a little spookier than the norm. It was part of the regular route. I knew all the distances and could adjust the run to fit the workout.

Up ahead, I noted a flash of fabric move in some bushes along the boulevard. A car was parked on the street in the way, so I didn't get a great view. I didn't think much of it. As I passed by, I glanced again and thought it was just a blanket thrown aside; just something billowing in the breeze. But then I heard a moan and a call, a weak, pathetic, "Hey." And a woman suddenly came down from the doorway of the next house.

"She fell down and can't get up," the woman said, pointing back at an elderly lady on her behind in some bushes off the sidewalk. A walker was tipped over beside her. She held an umbrella against the rain -- that was the fabric I'd seen. "There's no one home next door. Can you help?"

The fallen woman was Myrna. She was large, in a puffy sort of way. She was embarrassed and wet. She just wanted to get up and into her house so she could stop causing trouble for people. Myrna's friend had come over to take her to dinner, but a few steps shy of the car, Myrna had tumbled. "I'll pull you up," I said. "I can't get up," Myrna replied, almost defiantly.

I stood in front of her, above her, and put my feet against her feet to give her some stability. I grabbed each hand to pull her up. She almost did it. She was like a weightlifter who gets the bar up to his neck while in his squat, but just can't get out of the squat. Myrna didn't have the strength to straighten her legs out. She moaned, back down on the ground. "Oh, it hurts," she said. "Where? What hurts?" Everything, she said.

Now I was a bit afraid of doing this all by myself. What if I did get her up? Could it be dangerous to move her? And, OK, what if I get her back into her house? Do I just leave her there? What if she's got some more serious injury or problem? I imagined getting a knock on the door the next day from the cops, asking if I was the one who left Myrna to die alone in her house.

"I think we need to call for help," I said.

Myrna was not keen on this idea. Vaguely so. I said I didn't think there was a choice. Myrna moaned. "They were already out here today. She fell in the house," the friend said.

"They don't want to come back," Myrna said.

I told her they were paid to help people in her situation. "It makes their day helping beautiful ladies like you," I said. "Let's call 911."

That's when they told me about the little gizmo around Myrna's neck that signals an emergency.

"All I have to do is click this," she said.

Meanwhile, I was soaked. I didn't care, but I noted the irony: I had hurried to get my run started in the hope of avoiding the worst of the rain that was just moving into the area.

So Myrna clicked to signal the emergency and get the crews on their way, and told me to go in her house to stay dry. I told her nonsense. We chatted, me standing over her with the umbrella, she plopped down on the walk (I had gotten her out of the bushes). Around us, the street lights illuminated the rain into orange speckled drifts. A car or two went by.

"I can't do nothing," Myrna said. "My back is gone and my legs are gone."

Ten minutes later, a Napa Fire Department paramedic engine arrived, followed soon by an ambulance. Myrna was brought upright and asked lots of questions. The determination was made to take her back into her house. I told Myrna I hoped she'd be OK. She said, "Sorry for doing this to you. Thank you."

I was on my way and so was Myrna's friend. As I ran in the rain, happy to be able to, I wondered what the evening would hold for Myrna, alone -- and the day after?

We think it's a cliché that each new day is an opportunity. We sometimes convince ourselves that it's a burden, to have to wake up and face the job, the struggles the come with relationships, the boring routine, or loneliness or allergies or whatever. We tire. And then comes Myrna on the street, like out of a Mitch Albom novel. Seismic perspective shift, baby! You can run. You are strong. You can chase your kid on a bike.

You, truly, can chase any dream you want to. You can.

Well. This we've told ourself before, no? This psuedo-wisdom that has made ol' Mitch and even less clever authors across the fruited plain millions. This piercing Hallmark-worthy insight. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Ugh!

The key of course is actually living it, if not every moment of every day, then darn near that. The key is acting upon the knowledge that the seconds are ticking away, that time is counting down until its you or me on that sidewalk, wishing we weren't a burden.