Somebody to Lean On – Laura, Lila, Jim and the Old Woman in Cocoa Beach

Monday Night, 6:55 pm:

Jim arrives home from work. I hear music blasting from his car radio out in the driveway before he turns the car off and enters the house. In the bedroom, he changes out of his work jeans and polo shirt into shorts and another polo shirt, one that is way too big for him now that he’s losing weight, but one I know is super comfy.  Pillow propped under my head, I lie on the bed and wait for him. He lies down next to me and seconds later Catsby appears out of nowhere and leaps on to Jim’s chest to give him a head butt before flopping down between us. Catsby snuggles his little cat body smack up against Jim. I suspect he finds his soft animal body comforting. I know I do.

We go over the day, a well-worn routine for us. I start, “How was your day, honey?”

Jim says, “It was okay.”

Verbosity only runs on one side of our little family. I have the talent (is it a talent?) where I can make a mountain out of any mole hill, craft a damn near whole story from just about anything, no matter how inconsequential. But, tonight instead of relaying my day’s highlights, I’ve brought in the front section of The New York Times, with a bunch of blue-pen marks on it, highlighting passages that have particularly moved me, and that I want to share with Jim.

It’s been a couple of weeks of big losses: Aretha Franklin, John McCain and Neil Simon. Most of the inky highlights are dedicated to the life of John McCain: his singularly unimpressive academic performance graduating fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy, his cinema-worthy war experiences, “a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame,” as one of the Keating Five, but I’ve also singled out a short piece in Metropolitan Diary, New York City snippets that always run on Monday. I don’t usually read them aloud to Jim (he can read and does read the paper on his own just fine without my editorializing), but this one particularly touches me (I’d marked it with an arrow and a heart), and something inside me says, Share this one with him.

Somebody to Lean On 

Dear Diary:

I was at the intersection of 88th Street and Madison Avenue one evening in May. I had the light and was starting to cross, when a cab came around the corner and hit me.

I was lying in the street, in significant pain and unable to get up. Everyone in the small crowd gathered around me appeared to be calling 911.

The ambulance took longer than expected to arrive. While I waited, a woman crouched down near me.

“I’d like to sit cross-legged behind you and have you put your head on my lap,” she said quietly.

And then she did just that. I rested on her lap until the ambulance finally got there. I asked her name.

“Laura,” she said.

Laura, I’ve thought of you so many times since that night. Know that my displaced, fractured hip was more tolerable because of your kindness, and I’ll never forget it. Lila Bader

I start to cry when I get to the “Laura,” in the vignette and stop reading for a minute to compose myself to finish. Jim says, “Very touching,” and squeezes my hand. I say that I would have been a bit worried about moving the woman’s neck, but we agree it was an exceedingly nice thing for Laura to have done for Lila, to be someone she could lean on while lying hurt in the middle of the street.

Tuesday morning, 7:45 am

Jim walks upstairs, just back from an early morning bike ride before work, clothes and body soaked with sweat. He stops to talk to me, which is out of the norm for Jim, usually he’s in a rush to shower and dress for work. He tells me that just a little while ago, a few blocks away from home, he saw a woman hunched over on the sidewalk, a woman he describes as maybe in her 70s, maybe in her 80s, fit, in shorts and running shoes. He rides by her, thinking at first she’s bent over in some yoga pose, but something inside of him tells him to go back. He does and asks, “Are you alright?”

She looks up at him and he sees that she has road rash on her face, a gash on her nose, bloody knees and palms, and says, “I don’t know.”

He gets off his bike and walks closer. “Can you get up?”

“I’m not sure, I can,” she says.

He says, “I’m awfully sweaty but would like to help you stand up.”

She says, “I don’t care about the sweat.”

So, my sweaty-handed husband gently helps the older lady to standing, getting behind her he tells me and lifting her under her armpits.

“You are going to be sore tomorrow, he says. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never fallen like that before,” she says.

They stand together for a few minutes and then Jim says, “I’d like to walk you home.”

She says, “No, that’s okay, I live right there,” and points to condos across the street. Jim waits to see her take a few steps, to make sure she is steady on her own two feet before he hops on his bike and rides away.

Here’s what I wonder: would he have gone back to help this lady if he hadn’t heard “Somebody to Lean On,” the night before? Did that story act as some kind of pump-primer calling upon him to stop and assist a stranger who needed help? Who knows? I’m not sure what I would have done. I like to think I too would have stopped but who knows. I do know that I’ll continue to be on the look-out for these random acts of comfort, in print and especially in real life.

Reader’s Invitation: I’d love to hear any of your own random acts of comfort as giver or receiver or anything else that strikes you from this piece. I always appreciate your comments. I usually respond within 24 hours. Make sure and tell me in your post if you want to remain anonymous. 

5 thoughts on “Somebody to Lean On – Laura, Lila, Jim and the Old Woman in Cocoa Beach

  1. Hi Beth,

    One morning, I was traveling on a train, to go meet a friend, N., whom I had not seen in quite a while. I was looking forward to spending a day with her. She was going to meet me at the train station as I arrived, and we’d go to her home from there.
    As the train pulled out of the station for the last leg I’d be on it, I noticed a young woman walking through the carriage. She looked restless and undetermined, as if trying to make up her mind about where to sit. The second time she passed, our gaze locked for just a moment, and in that exchanged glance, I hoped she’d be able to read my intention: Please feel free to take the spot opposite of me. She seemed to hesitate, walked on, but came back a little bit later, and sat down. I struck up a conversation.
    It turned out her boyfriend had dumped her the previous day, she had stayed up all night and she’d drank, trying to cope with the situation. Mere minutes before, she had stood on a platform and decided she didn’t want to be there any longer. An observant stranger had physically held her back as she had made a move to throw herself in front of the train, as it entered the station.
    So instead, she had boarded the train, alone, seemingly disoriented. It was headed to where she lived, an hour and a half or so away. While erring through the carriages, she said, she had caught an unexpected glimpse of kindness.
    I was not going to be on the train much longer; just twenty minutes separated the two stops. My friend would be awaiting me just outside the station, I explained.
    I offered my fellow traveler, to interrupt her trip, inviting her for a cup of coffee at the next stop. I was glad she accepted. I introduced her to my friend N. and in a few words explained how we’d just met. Rather than just have the cup of coffee and bid good-bye, N. did not hesitate for a moment, and invited our traveling friend over to her home…
    Arriving in the single mother home, with obvious traces of kids everywhere, we sat down for some tea and basics were taken care of, offering something to eat or any other comfort she might welcome. Not having slept a wink the previous night, L. was happy to lay down on the couch for a bit, while my friend and I caught up on life since we’d last seen each other. Our new friend dozed off to a soundtrack of simple, friendly chitchat…
    Every once in a while, we’d check in with our guest, tuck her in, offer some tea… Sometime in the afternoon, she woke up, and announced she had an appointment with her doctor, where she lived. She figured she could actually get there in time, and we saw her off at the train station.
    We kept in touch with each other after this day, and L. has found a new love since. N. and I recently received an invitation to L.’s wedding: A suite will be at our disposal for three days of celebration, between Marrakech and the Atlas mountain range.
    We’re all looking forward to reuniting there.

    1. W, What a great story! Really, you are renewing my faith in humankind. I love how perceptive you are, how welcoming you and your friend were to this woman in distress. Small acts of kindness can make all the difference in the world, cant’ they? You show too just how much we crave true contact with the other. Gosh, I feel fortunate to know you and fortunate too that you read my pieces and share such thoughtful, sensitive comments. Thank you. I appreciate it — and you!

      1. You’re welcome, Beth. your blog post and invitation to share similar instances inspired this…
        I’m convinced I’ve missed many, many more opportunities at random or other acts of kindness, than I’ve managed to grab, but I’m glad at least I have not missed all of them 😉
        I was most impressed by my friend N.’s immediate invitation to L., a complete stranger to her, to come along to her home. It occurred as if it were the most natural of things. She’s a fellow human I love 🙂
        Thanks for the little gems you post!

  2. I have a story also…I was a busy mother running as usual, when our children were in their preschool years. Allison was at a birthday party in town and I was on my way to pick her up with Mary (2 yrs) in the back seat. I saw a woman in her yard with the lawn mower but she was on her knees looking at the ground. As I drove by I thought, “is she looking for worms, at a flower?”, my intuition nudged me to stop and back up, so I did. “Hello”, I called, “are you ok?”. I couldn’t hear what she was saying because her voice was so weak. I told the woman I was going to pull into her driveway and check on her.
    It turned out that she was a single woman (a school teacher) and she had been very sick for a week. I waved another passing car and the man who hopped out, helped me get her into the house. Because she was sick, she hadn’t had good food and care—her refrigerator was bare. She didn’t want us to call the ambulance, so we got her into her bed and I told her I would be back. I dropped off the girls with my friend, went to the grocery store and went back to replenish her with healthy food. I checked on her for a few days afterward, and she was recovering well.
    Here is the miracle in the story…she never knew her neighbor across the street until this happened. He mowed her lawn, his wife became good friends with this woman and years of friendship followed! I used to put little notes in her mail box periodically to encourage her during the years. She has since moved to another town.
    I feel grateful to be willing to step out of my busy day if that still, small voice within, calls me to action.❤️

    1. This is such a great story, Claudia, thank you for sharing it! And, it is sooooo you too, intuitive and kind and compassionate and caring. Thanks for being such a passionate force for goodness in the world.

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