Yesterday was exactly one year that my mom has been in a persistent vegetative state. I was drained by the end of the day, but that was more due to school than anything with my mom. I did tear up a bit at one point. But here’s the weird thing …
I didn’t cry about my mom. I cried about some random old woman I ran into in Vancouver two months ago.
Okay, so that makes absolutely no sense. I should explain …
Melissa and I visited Vancouver back in August. On the day we arrived, we took the train from the airport to downtown, and then decided to walk the half mile or so along the shore from the train station to our hotel. We got maybe 50 feet from the train station when an old Asian woman, carrying a small stack of paper, approached us. She had a friendly demeanor, but didn’t seem to speak any English.
The woman showed us her stack of paper and pointed to a table printed on the first sheet. I took a closer look, and I realized it was a bus schedule. We quickly deduced that she was looking for a specific bus.
I peered at the schedule for a few seconds, and I quickly realized that I had no idea how the bus system worked in Vancouver. So I apologized politely (but also probably a bit dismissively), said that we didn’t know, and we started walking away.
I took about five steps, and a slight pang of guilt hit me. Should I have put a little more effort into helping this woman? Did I brush her off too quickly? Was I rude?
I turned my head around, and … she was looking right back at me. She didn’t seem distressed or scared. She didn’t even seem disappointed or frustrated that I hadn’t helped her. If anything, she had what seemed like an … optimistic look in her eyes. As though she was still waiting for me to come back and help her.
But I didn’t. I turned my head back, and I just kept walking. I didn’t turn around again.
This brief exchange happened two months ago and lasted no more than a minute. And yet, it’s haunted me for the last two months. I keep wondering if this woman found her bus, if she got to where she needed to go. I keep wondering why someone her age was standing there alone, without anyone to help her.
I thought about my mom all day yesterday, and at one random point, this old woman popped into my head. This wasn’t surprising, as this old woman pops into my head several times a week nowadays. What was surprising was that I started tearing up …
Here’s what I’ve since realized. This woman reminded me of my mom. And her standing there reminded me of a time, years ago, when my mom came to visit me in San Diego and got hopelessly lost.
My mom had driven down from Irvine, about an hour away, and she somehow ended up in Mission Beach, about a mile from my house. It may as well have been 1,000 miles. After driving around haplessly for who knows how long, she finally pulled into a parking lot and asked a random man for help. She showed him my address, but he had no idea where it was. Not having a cell phone at the time, she ended up borrowing his phone and called me. She tried to explain where she was, but couldn’t. So finally, she put him on the phone, and he managed to communicate to me which parking lot and where in the lot they were. I thanked him and got on my way.
I was there in minutes, and I could see the relief wash over my mom. I never met the man who helped her, but I was silently grateful for him.
I think this is why the old woman in Vancouver haunts me. I wonder if she needed me the same way my mom needed that strange man. I wonder if I could’ve been, for this woman, the stranger who helped my mom.
Mostly, I wonder why I didn’t even try to help her.
I mean, I’m sure she ended up okay, right? Like I said, she didn’t seem the least bit distressed or scared. She didn’t need my help, right? Someone else had to know the bus schedule and have helped her in the end. Right? She must have ended up getting to where she needed to go. Right? Right?
So … why do I feel so much guilt for not helping? Why did thinking about this old woman make me cry yesterday?