Wednesday, August 02, 2017

John Mensinger


As I drove toward the traffic signal at a busy road intersection near my home last Saturday, I was preoccupied with plans, lists, errands and things to be done. It was a time-staggered signal with turning arrows and an erratic flow of vehicles, so I shifted my attention to the cars around me. Like most roads designed to funnel traffic efficiently, this intersection was particularly unfriendly to pedestrians, and I rarely saw anyone beyond dare-devil kids on bicycles trying to navigate their way across it.

As I brought my car to a stop, I was mildly surprised to see the elderly black couple standing at the curb to my right. She had pressed the "Walk" button and they were about to cross in front of me. She was what my mother used to call a "big-boned" woman, dressed in a blue floral print blouse with complimentary sweater and slacks, almost dressy for a Saturday afternoon on Park Avenue. Her sneakers were clean and very white, and she held a cane in her right hand. He stood to her left and slightly ahead, his tall frame topped by a baseball cap.

He stepped off the curb first, and lingered while she tentatively did the same, finding it challenging to drop down a step with her stiff leg and nothing to hold on to. At first I thought it odd that he offered her no support. But as he continued to linger, and she joined him with her first stride, she reached forward to grab a fistful of the back of his shirt in her left hand to steady herself, and they slowly but deliberately made their way across. It suddenly struck me that this was exactly as they wanted it to be: two proud people, capable and independent, making their way through a challenging situation in the same self-reliant fashion that they always had... while at the same time, discretely, silently, and without undue public attention, showing subtle patience and compassion for each other, seemingly symbiotic, as if it had been for all time.

When searching for a way to reinforce a moral compass in my daughter when she was very young, I would often remind her of what I called Rule No. 1: be nice. It's always good to be reminded of basic goodness, capable of being observed daily, in the crosswalk.

- John Mensinger