Watching Life Happen

I have to temporarily interrupt my string of blog posts that are my book chapters to tell a very special story. This is all true, and happened to me last Sunday.

After a late night out with a girlfriend Saturday, I was lucky I hadn’t agreed to meet my new yogi friend, Mickey, at LifeAlive in Cambridge until noon. Fortunately my brain was working enough to recognize that driving would be easier, and made the connection that parking in the Green/Pearl Street garage near Central Square would be a completely reasonable thing to do — it’s not a bad price, and I could walk to the restaurant. So I did that, Mickey and I had a nice lunch, and then I worked on a presentation at the 1365 coffee house next door until around 4 pm.

Walking back to my car, I spotted an African American man, maybe in his late 20s or early 30s, dressed nicely in shorts, a casual T-shirt, and sandals (with socks, but I won’t hold that against him!). He was sitting on the stairs of the tae kwon do place that was across the street from the garage. As I passed, he noticed me too. He said, “Hey, how’s it going?” I said, “Not bad, how are you?” He said something like “OK” or “good”, and I walked into the garage.

When I got to my car, I immediately noticed that my rear passenger tire was flat. It had been low on air (as one of my yoga students pointed out weeks ago), and I’d filled it twice since then. Now it was completely dead. Hmmm…I decided that I needed to get out of the garage. Although the rate was reasonable, it was not likely to be reasonable after waiting N hours for AAA. So I paid and pulled out of the garage, which happened to be right in front of the man sitting on the stairs. I got out of the car to get my bag out of the trunk, searching for my phone and my AAA card. He came over and asked if I needed help.

“Yes, thank you” I said, hoping to save myself the time. I wasn’t in a hurry really, but something about waiting around for AAA annoyed me–changing my tire with this guy (i.e. ourselves) felt better. We started pulling stuff out of the trunk, and before you know it we were sitting on the curb next to each other. He was monkeying with the jack, and couldn’t get it in the right position to be able to turn the crank, which would raise the jack and thus the car. He told me I was missing a part maybe, but I never use the stuff, so I doubted it. It had to be all there.

After a few minutes of fumbling, the thinnest Caucasian man I’ve ever seen, with a gray beard down to his chest and shopping cart in toe, charged over to us and started saying “let me do it.” He smelled distinctly of booze. Before either of us could say anything, this man was practically under my car. He pushed the other guy out of the way and sat down next to me on the curb, playing with the jack. The younger guy kept trying to tell him that the jack was broken. The older man was cursing up a storm (for no apparent reason) and insisted the younger one didn’t know what he was doing. The next minute the older guy looked at me and growled, “Get out of my way!” The younger man rephrased that in a kinder way, hinting to the older man to be more polite to me (a lady).

For the next 30 minutes, I watched as the older, white, drunk, homeless man changed my tire, occasionally aided by the younger, black, decently dressed and more civilized one. He threw the full weight of his body (likely less than mine) on the wrench to loosen the bolts that were insanely tight. He taught the younger guy which direction to turn the wrench–it’s “righty tighty, lefty loosey EXCEPT on Dodges, he explained. It turned out that the homeless man used to change tires on trucks! He showed the young man how to pry off the hub cap. How to jack the car up just enough, then loosen the bolts, then jack it up all the way. And on and on. He wasn’t too nice about it, but there was an underlying kindness in him, and he definitely knew what he was doing.

For the most part I stood in the back, watching one or both of them work, amazed at this experience. As my friend Jason said later upon hearing this story, “life was happening”. I felt so incredibly happy, in awe, and blessed.

Once the older man was done, he gave me a lecture about getting the tire fixed right away (I did a few days later), and to tell the shop to put some lube on the bolts because I’d never have gotten them loose myself. I didn’t have much cash on me, but I had two $5 bills. I was prepared to give the money to the homeless man, and offer a ride to the younger one who I’d learned was waiting for his sister. I happened to ask the young man first, if he needed a ride somewhere. “No,” he said. “I’m just at the shelter up the street.”

No words. Just love. Just wanting to help. More.

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