Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.
Forty-odd years ago, I was passing through New York City as I often did when traveling from my university on Long Island to my home in upstate New York. That day I hadn’t taken my usual trip from Stony Brook on the LIRR, to Penn Station, and then the subway to Port Authority to catch my bus. That day my boyfriend had dropped me off about two blocks from Port Authority and I was walking.
When I reached a corner to cross, I was soon surrounded by a large crowd of other pedestrians. And as it was back then, and may still be in NYC, the growing crowd kept pushing me farther into the street as we waited for the light to change.
I was focused on the light, jostled from behind, and probably a whole lot more oblivious than I should have been to what seemed like the usual push out into the street about a car’s width from the curb. My mind was certainly on other things, not least among them that I wanted to get to Port Authority because I had contact lenses and the wind kept blowing cinders into my eye.
All of a sudden a strong hand gripped my arm and yanked me back. At the very same instant, I saw a yellow cab zip around the corner right where I had been standing. It missed me by inches.
Startled, I whipped my head around and looked into the face of a middle-aged African-American man.
“Sorry,” he said. “That cab was going to nick you.”
I started to thank him profusely, but he merely nodded and then dissolved. In moments he had vanished into the crowd and I lost sight of him.
He may have been an angel, or he may have been an ordinary man. What made this moment so extraordinary to me was what he had risked to help me. Any of a number of people were close enough to pull me out of harm’s way, but he was the one who chose to.
In that day and time, that was extraordinary, because back then a black man who touched a white woman could get into instant and serious trouble. He took that risk to save me. Then he quickly got out of the way, even though I was sure he had been there to cross the same street.
I’ve wished ever since that I’d had the opportunity to say more than a stammered “Thank you.” I’ve wished I could have expressed how truly grateful I was. But he had taken a huge risk to help me, and wisely he disappeared as quickly as he could.
That saddened me, and saddens me to this day. He may have just been another mortal, but to me he was an angel. I have never forgotten him, or the kindness in his face.
And I have been left wondering how a simple act of such great kindness could have put him at risk.
A man saved me. That should have been the beginning and end of it. But to this day, it is not.
How very sad.
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