Manhattan Mercy

Bouncing down West 72nd Street, gleeful with my thrift shop purchases, I came upon a statuesque black lady holding up an ancient looking miniscule caned woman who is barely standing, frozen mid-sidewalk. Her knees are buckled so severely that they are frighteningly close to the ground.

I offer my help and it is accepted. As I place the flat of my hand under her upper arm, the black lady explains, “I’m trying to help her get to the bus on Amsterdam.” To me it is obvious that this is not going to happen. In fact, it is a dangerous idea.  I share my thoughts and the tiny woman says, “I think I need to sit down,” which I believe to be a very intelligent comment. We look around and find a set of 3 cement steps in the front of an apartment building and ask the seemingly tortured woman to try to slowly head for them. “Is there a chair anywhere?” she hopes. We cannot locate one, though we have asked several merchants.

She puts forth a great effort as we support her and slowly, step-by-step, get her over to the stoop. Now we have a challenge. She is facing the steps and that means we must turn her around and bend her torso into a sitting position. Enter a European, bald fellow asking if he can aid us seeing our dilemma. We are glad to have him and he begins to lift her gingerly when a Muslim-garbed man also offers his help. Just then a woman wearing a Star of David joins us and asks, “How can I help?” We’re not sure yet, but, thank her for standing by. The two men with determination lift the little elderly woman and arrange her into a sitting, if awkward, position on the second step. Her feet hardly touch the ground, that’s how short she is.

Now she is slanted with her Le Sportsac nylon purse draped across her chest. She is out of breath until she settles into her awkward posture. An Indian woman with a smile comes by and asks her, “Are you comfortable? You don’t look comfortable.” “I’m okay except for my back, but I’m glad to be sitting.” I ask if I can put her purse behind her back and she says no. So we sit a bit and I introduce myself, “I’m Lynn, what is your name?” “Maria.” Everyone then introduces themselves: Donna, Pablo, Abdul, Sue, Trina and now we are united in a Manhattan mission of mercy.

Maria begins her short story, “I live on 83rd between Broadway and Amsterdam and I was supposed to meet a friend at a restaurant on Columbus. I can’t remember the name but would recognize it if I saw it. I looked and looked and walked up and down Columbus and up and down again and I got so tired. I could not find that restaurant and she’s not answering her cell phone. Now I just want to get on the bus and go home.” I offer my observation that her plan seems ambitious given her present condition. The others agree and Sue takes it upon herself to contact 911 who say they will send EMS.

Donna excuses herself to get to an appointment downtown. I ask Maria if there is someone we can call to come get her. She responds no and tells us that her daughter just got married the other day, here in Manhattan where they live and love. I congratulated her and asked if that might have contributed to her fatigue–to which she reiterated the Columbus Avenue fiasco. Realizing that she has a daughter I inquire, “How do you feel about us contacting your daughter to come get you?” “No!” Definitively no.

Sirens are blaring and the St. Luke’s EMS Ambulance makes a swift u-turn to land in front of us. Two uniformed men–one Chinese and one Filipino (I think)–approach her with gentle smiles and concern. They ask her a few questions that seem to test if her brain is intact, which it clearly is. They explain that if they transport her, it would have to be to the hospital. Maria says, “No, I just want to go home to 83rd between Broadway and Amsterdam. I’m very tired.” The two medical workers whisper between themselves about whether they could stretch the rules and take her home in the ambulance. They decide against that but offer to get her a cab and put her in. She supposes she must take a taxi after all. I tell them I will talk to the cab driver about helping her at the other end.

A Sikh driver stops and we all go into high gear. The driver looks at the scene and says, “My cab is too high for her to get into.” I explain that she will be lifted in so it’s not a problem and that I would like him to help her at the other end where there is also a doorman. He agrees a tad reluctantly but I talk him up and he relaxes with a genuine nod.

As the two EMSers lift her kindly and set her into place, she remembers her purse, which I hand her and she explains, “You know, I’m eighty-seven and a half years old. Thank you all.”

As the taxi pulls away she raises her tiny hand, smiles and waves goodbye.

–Rev. Lynn

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