Cigarettes, Rain, and Gratitude.
And he fell…
Barefoot within the warm walls of Om Time, my studio in Boulder, Colorado, I was toting an armload of newly folded tee shirts when I looked out from the back of the store through the front window at the rain.
Stumbling through the rain, with a cigarette pinned between his fingers, a little, old intoxicated man caught my attention. He drew a breath through an extended ash as he dizzily navigated the sidewalk. Each step was an effort of amazing concentration for the left foot to find itself somewhere in forward motion of the right. He literally seemed to swim, without the luxury of grace, through the rain.
He stepped. He stepped.
And he fell, from the wet sidewalk, off the curb and into the street, straight into a lane of traffic on Broadway. His cigarette remained held fast and suspended above the earth, as his chin broke his fall and began to radiate red across the wet street top. In a sudden pool of blood, he crumbled defeated on the ground like cloth…still holding his cigarette above the wet.
Follow me!, I shouted in a battle cry to a fellow staff member.
She leapt from behind the desk and we were with him in a flash. A thin man, he was shockingly heavy as we gathered him up and out of the busy street. We pulled him up to sit on the bus stop bench.
He immediately drew a breath from the cigarette he’d so carefully protected.
“What happened?” He spoke evenly and gently as blood poured from his chin down his neck and shirt.
“You fell from the sidewalk.” I guarded the panic from my voice and responded as calmly as I could, while turning to a staff member, “Please, call 911 and bring me a towel and a blanket.”
In just seconds, the blanket and towel arrived on the scene. I bundled him in a little red yoga blanket and held the towel to his chin so we could wait for the ambulance together in the pouring rain.
“Hey man!” Another, visibly intoxicated, stumbling man worked his way down the sidewalk toward us, “I have been looking for you! Man, you look bad, you are definitely going to detox dude!”
A protective motherly force began to rise within me and I held my still smoking frail friend fast to my side, beneath my studio blanket wing.
“Am I going to detox?” The sweet man asked me between drags.
“No. By the time you make it through the emergency room, they won’t even notice. Just be quiet and gentle while you are there and everything will be alright.”
“Man, she is full of it. You better come with me, before the cops get here and haul you in!”
I held my little old man tighter. He shook with cold and shock. So much blood, it began to soak through the towel and into my sleeve.
A small crowd began to gather gazing into our bizarre little scene: a barefoot woman holding a towel to a man’s chin while he continues to smoke and an intoxicated onlooker pokes at them that they are going to be shortly collected by the police.
“What did she do to him?” One interested passerby asked of another onlooker.
I snickered a little to myself and thought about what an odd little drama we were taking part in, as we certainly offered a scene out of the ordinary to Pearl Street that morning!
The paramedics arrived quickly with the entourage of two squad cars and a fire truck. The drama for the onlookers was getting better and better by the moment. His chastising buddy hoofed it at the first sighting of the lights.
The medics expertly gathered him up and one of them turned to me with the little red studio blanket in his hands, and said,
“This must be yours.”
“No, it’s his.” I responded, “I mean, it is a gift and he needs it. He should keep it. He is so cold.”
The paramedics continued their work. I walked over to the curb with the policeman to describe exactly what happened. No, I was not hurt. No I did not push him, etc. We stood by the curb as I described the initial event and original of pool of blood was fading and swirling its final memories into the rainwater rushing through the gutter towards the drain.
Upon seeing the bright blinking lights pull away from the curb, I looked down to my own bloodsoaked clothing. I quickly turned on my heels, stepped inside my yoga center, and padded across the floor to the bathroom. In the mirror, I saw myself, soaked and stained. At that moment, the adrenaline gave way to tears and I slid down the wall and sobbed on the cool tile floor. I cried and cried as I replayed the last 20 minutes in my head.
“What did she do to him?” The inquiry repeated itself to me.
The tears came harder.
…I’ll tell you what I did to him: I judged him. I watched him stagger through the rain with distant amusement of “a little early isn’t it pal?” from the warmth of my establishment.
…I’ll tell you what I did to him: I cared for him. From judgment, I was shocked from my comfort zone and straight to his shaking little side. When he fell into the street, he fell into my heart and I fell into immediate service to this little old man, this stranger.
…I’ll tell you what did to him: I lied to him to make him feel safe and held. I held him and lied until the paramedics pulled up and gathered him into their van with their practiced and gloved hands.
…I’ll tell you what I did to him: I remembered him. I remembered him as I remembered parts of myself. I remembered all of my frail aspects and how I, and many that I love, have been just steps from an emotional gutter more times that I actually care to remember. I remembered all of the times I figuratively lifted my negative patterns above the soggy earth in order to protect them and break a fall or two with my face.
The entire event took less than 20 minutes. You can learn a lot about yourself in 20 minutes.
Several days later, I walked into my office and found the little red studio blanket neatly folded on my desk.
“Oh yeah,” my husband turned to me, “he brought it back just a little bit ago. He wanted to tell ‘the sweet little girl’ who was so nice to him, ‘Thank you.’”
I lifted the little red studio blanket to my chest. It smelled of cigarettes, rain, and gratitude.
“Thank you, little old man.”