Day 104: Everyday heroes

Have you ever looked at a plant in your garden that, one day, appears to be a weed that needs pulling but the next day you notice what a beautiful a flower it is?

That happened to me this morning. Not with a weed, mind you, but a person — two people, in fact.

The first person was an old man pushing a grocery store cart along the sidewalk. I’d seen him before and assumed he was homeless.

Somehow today, watching him through the bus window I realized I’d got it all wrong. He was well groomed, wore a peaked cap, clean plaid shirt, jeans, work boots and white cloth gloves. He pushed the cart with purpose toward the grocery store and, along the way, stopped to pick up a stray paper cup. He tossed the cup in with other litter heaped in a box in the shopping cart, then he kept going.

As the bus stopped at a red light, a big trash container in the store parking lot caught my eye. Okay, now I get it, I thought. This man is probably one of those retired guys who still needs to keep busy. You know, the ones for whom stopping work is stopping life.

This man must have now made it his “job” to cruise the neighbourhood with the cart, pick up as much litter as he can before depositing it in the trash bin and returning the cart to the store. An everyday hero. Why did I not see this before?

Then, at the subway, I saw another elderly guy who caught my attention. He was having trouble keeping his balance as he stood beside the bottom of the escalator. He gripped a blue broom handle (minus the broom).

At first glance I thought he was a drunk panhandler and I was tempted to fish coins out of my pocket for him. As I got closer I could see that he was just trying to stay upright (his left side looked very weak) and wait for a gap in the crowd to mount the escalator safely.

I got on the escalator but kept looking back to check that he was able to step on safely. I was running late but even though the train approached, I waited at the top of the escalator to make sure he could get off the moving steps without falling. (Those dismounts can be tricky — I’ve stumbled many times myself.)

I’m not sure how much help I could have been but I at least wanted to be ready just in case. Despite his wavering, he stepped off the escalator successfully — and I still made my train. I kept thinking about him throughout the day, as well as the community clean-up man.

I’m thinking that reserving judgment as much as possible can also be a pretty good deed at times. I think I’ll try it more often….

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