Every so often something happens to make me fall in love with Evanston all over again. Here is this week’s inspiration.
The woman was lost. Wearing a heavy green bathrobe over a t-shirt and pants, she clutched her small dog tightly. Her hair was blond and tousled, her face lined with wrinkles and creases. She spoke softly and slowly with an accent, and when she opened her mouth there was darkness where there should have been teeth. She asked the young woman walking by if she, the young one, would help her find her way home.
The younger of the two was very kind and spoke gently to the older one. The lost one doesn’t live here; she was visiting her sister, but she forgot where she was staying. She had been trying to find her way home. Her sister was in the apartment. Her sister was not in the apartment. She knew her sister’s last name but not her own.
Only a few feet away, I overheard the conversation and asked if I could help. The woman looked familiar; I had seen her last year outside in the mornings with her dog. We may have nodded toward one another or said good morning, but we had never had an actual conversation until now.
She was becoming more anxious. She did not remember how long she had been outside. Come inside to sit down, I offered. Do you want a drink of water? Are you okay? Do you need to use the restroom? She didn’t want water. She didn’t need to use the restroom. She was fine, but she was locked out and very lost.
I suggested the young one call 311 and explain the situation. The operator listened, asked questions and transferred the call to the Fire Department. A few minutes later, a very large fire truck came down the street. The three of us walked toward the building next door and were standing there, waving, as if hailing a cab.
For a fire, she asked? No, I said, firemen also do rescues. You are like Cinderella; you need to be rescued. The old woman smiled, but still didn’t remember her name.
The immense red truck dwarfed the street, so shiny it was almost reflective. The firemen approached. The young woman explained the situation. The leader among the three firemen asked the older woman some questions. They found the elder’s sister’s name on the outer door of one of the doorways. No one in any of the apartments above responded to buzzer sounds to open the door. The rescue professionals were evaluating what to do next when a neighbor upstairs opened his window. Can I help?
At this point in the story, I left. The older woman was going home. She would be fine. Her neighbors rallied around her. The young woman who helped is a nursing student; already she has the demeanor of a caring, gentle protector. The firemen were kind, professional and prompt.
It is so difficult to grow old.
Whatever sadness I feel about the way a mind can be ravaged by time was balanced by the relief I felt watching those who helped. Kind people exist in many places, but this happened here.