Monday, March 14, 2016

The woman in the rain

Last week, on a rainy day not unlike the one we're experiencing right now, I was stopped by an old woman all dressed in blue. 

I was hurrying down Yonge Street on my way to work when she caught my eye and beckoned me over to where she was standing on the corner. I removed my ear buds, shifted my book bag about, and asked if she was okay. 

She wanted to know if I was heading to the subway and if I wouldn't mind walking her in that direction. She was old, she explained, and afraid she'd slip on the wet sidewalk, so she needed a steady hand to lean on while she made her way to the bank. I offered her my arm and off we went down the street. 

We were only a block away from her destination, so I didn't think this would take much time until we started walking. And by walking, I mean shuffling, at a pace slower than I thought possible. Suddenly this city block seemed like a 1000 mile journey and time began to slow and stretch before me - this was going to be a long walk. 

As she carefully put one foot in front of the other, arm looped with mine, she pointed out how wet everything was, how slick the sidewalk had become with the rain, and how the pavement seemed to slant towards the road. Despite having lived in this neighbourhood for almost eight years and having walked this stretch of road countless times, I'd never noticed the slant in the sidewalk until she pointed it out. "Why do they build sidewalks like this?" She asked me. "It's quite dangerous, you could slip into the road." 

We made pleasant conversation as commuters rushed around us on their mad dash to the train. She asked if I was in school, or if I was heading to work. Did I work downtown? Was my commute awful? I asked her how she managed in the winter when the sidewalks were icy and covered in snow. "Winter is hell," she said. As someone who has landed butt deep in slush on an icy run to work, I couldn't help agreeing with her. 

When we got to the corner she asked if I could help her cross the street. By this time I was already ten minutes late for work, so I said "of course", and we began our snail-like amble across Yonge. A very busy Yonge, in the midst of rush hour traffic, with construction dominating one corner and buses roaring past on Eglinton spraying pedestrians with gritty puddle water. The orange hand on the cross walk started to flash its countdown and we were barely half way through the road. She must have felt my arm tense because she quietly said "we'll make it" as she continued to shuffle by my side. Our time ran out and cars gingerly drove around us as we completed our crossing. 

We finally made it to the bank and she squeezed my arm and thanked me three times for my help. I asked if she'd be okay getting home, and she said she'd manage. "Manage" being the operative word here. A walk that would have taken me less than two minutes had taken us almost fifteen to complete. A road that I wouldn't balk at to cross suddenly seemed like a horrifying obstacle course when I looked at it through the eyes of this little, grey-haired lady dressed in blue. I told her to have a good day, but I couldn't help but wonder how good it would be if there wasn't anyone to help her. This city isn't set up to accommodate people who move slower than the average rat-race clip and I worried about how long it would take her to get home. 

I ended up being very late for work, but I learned a valuable lesson, which made my tardiness seem worthwhile. For the past week I've been trying to see things through the eyes of the little old lady in blue in attempt to observe more and appreciate the ease of my youth. I've slowed down my commute so I can observe my surroundings, like the slant in a sidewalk, or how quickly my neighbourhood is growing. And today, I took out my earbuds and listened to the rain patter on my umbrella as I walked. It was a nice sound, and I slowed to a shuffle. 

Renoir, the man knew how to paint an umbrella. 

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