I live in New York City. Early on in the mask-wearing-world-of-a-global-pandemic, I was on a city bus on my way home from seeing a chiropractor.
I'd never needed a chiropractor before, but somewhere between my new at-home workout routine and a burgeoning relationship with sitting for hours, I seem to have done something to my lower back.
So, I was on the bus, headed home. I had one air pod in my left ear and was talking with a friend who lives in California.
An older man who was sitting across from me on the bus got up and came toward me, asking me a question I couldn’t quite understand.
So, I took my hand and put it on my jaw to keep my mask tight to my face. Then, I took the elastic from behind my ear and leaned in.
“What did you say?”
“Which way is the Target?”
“Oh, it's the other way. Sorry, you're gonna have to get off at the next stop and catch the bus going the other direction.”
He was clearly a little frustrated but thankful for the information.
I stretched the elastic back behind my ear and let my friend know my attention was back on our conversation.
Only then did I realize what I had just done.
Without giving it a second thought, I had removed the elastic from behind my ear.
So that I could hear him better.
Which makes no logical sense. I wasn’t having a hard time hearing him because something was blocking my ear. I was having a hard time hearing him because a mask was blocking his mouth.
Traffic was terrible, and the bus was creeping along so slowly, I decided to get off at the next stop and walk the rest of the way home. This would allow me to talk with my friend, breathe the fresh air, and not have to worry about being rude to the other people on the bus.
When the bus stopped, I headed for the door and noticed the older man who'd asked about Target struggling to push the door open.
I remembered that when I had gotten on the bus, the woman getting off couldn’t get the door open. I had literally reached my hand in and yanked to get it open.
Realizing the older man is likely not going to be able to get the door open on his own, I move in to help. I started pushing on the door, too, but it really needed a full-body charge, so I leaned in and pushed.
He took a step back and started yelling, “You go! You go!”
I was stunned and took a step back. I motioned for him to get off the bus. He was there first; I was simply trying to get the door open.
Nope. He threw his weight back in his heels, letting me know he would not be getting off the bus until I did. His arms were now flailing as he continued yelling, “No, you go! You're clearly more important than me! You go.”
I was totally shaken and hurried off the bus. I started walking toward home and could still hear him behind me, continuing to yell.
So I turned around and yelled, “I was just trying to help you!”
Not one of my finer moments.
I’d like to think part of the volume that constitutes calling it “yelling” was due to NYC traffic, the distance between him and me, and the fact that I had a mask covering my mouth. But, I have to also admit, that some of the volume and intensity came from a defensiveness within me because my honest attempt had been to help him, not to cut in front.
If I had it to do over again, I wish I could have taken a breath and said in closer proximity, “Sir, I knew how heavy the door was. I was just trying to help you.”
To be honest, I don't think he would have taken that well either. I think the best thing would have just been to keep on keeping on. He'd made his decision about what I was doing, what my motives were, and the kind of person I was.
But, that is what frustrated me. I was honestly just trying to help.
Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the initial spirit which led me to help in the first place wasn’t clearly conveyed when I turned and screamed, “I was just trying to help you!”