Adam Dales, a student of Professor Janelle Newman at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other," by Akaya Windwood, a story about what it might feel like to live in a world where people don't acknowledge your existence. He is our college winner for the Winter 2013 writing competition.
Writing prompt: “Imagine you accept Akaya Windwood's invitation to intentionally notice people you would normally ignore. Who would you notice? What would change for you and for that person?
The Humbled Lawyer
by Adam Dales
I’ve always felt that the nine-to-five lifestyle was mundane and unrewarding. Head to work and put in hours just to pay bills and keep a roof over your head. After reading Akaya Windwood’s story, “What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other,” I felt compelled to write about the perceptions we label each other with and how we as a society should look past these indifferences.
Many parents teach their children to “never judge a book by its cover.” Even with these morals, we still make the mistake of judging individuals we don’t know. We may never completely change, but with constant reminders and new light shed on these situations we can be more accepting of all people.
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Another day of existence stuck in my mediocre job with terrible bosses. My wife constantly complains to me about overdue bills and the lack of money to pay our mortgage. I’ve often thought of ending it. Today, however, would give me a reason to live once again.
I set off for work like any other day in the Big Apple. All the hustlers and bustlers moving without regard past each other, shoving and swearing their way through the hordes of people. No “hi” or “excuse me, I need to pass.” How did I ever think this would be my life? A city built by financial kings on the backs of the poor, breeding sorrow and anger. It nurtures itself by feeding off of its people’s innocence. All of us different, yet we’re all the same but still judging each other by stature and social acceptance.
As I make my way through the sidewalk’s calamity, I see a beggar around my age panhandling, like you often see around here. For some reason, this man seems so desperate to me, and I have to help. I reach into my pocket to pull out some change; all I have is a five dollar bill. With regret I hand over the cash. The vagrant replies “Thank you sir, and God bless.” I feel mad at the amount I gave him, but rejoice in the numerous karma points that will come back to me for my kind deed.
I continue on my walk to my local subway station, pondering the tasks ahead and the gripes I would receive for not submitting the Johnson case to Mr. Weber. I glance around at my surroundings and see the usual suspects that fill this depressing arena. You can find every class of citizen trapped in this dark downtown subway station. I make my way to the platform and watch more and more people filter through their commuting customs.
A bell dings, and the intercom announces the connector pulling into the station. I glance down the line and see it coming. Just then a gust of wind captures my coat, and I begin to sway. I look down and notice I’m standing in a zone marked “No Standing.” I lose my balance and fall to the tracks below. I’m shaken by the fall and the thought of imminent danger rushes through me. I must stand up and get off these tracks. I quickly turn to see the homeless man standing on the platform above with his hand stretched outward. As I reach for the man’s hand the train’s horn grows louder and the distance between the train and me closes in. My feeble-looking savior hastily pulls me up as if I weigh nothing. Will I make it back to the platform? Will I lose limbs? Will I live?
I roll onto the man and the train gushes behind with fiercely strong winds that whip at my coat. Overwhelmed with gratitude, I hug the man. I cannot control my emotions; my heart is racing, I thank him over and over. As we stand up, the commuters begin to clap and cheer for the man’s brave reaction to help. Over the sound of the uproarious crowd he yells “Thank you sir. I now have money to eat. We both have saved one another.” I continue to cry and the man calmly walks away into the sea of cheering people. Did this just happen? If I did not notice this man earlier, would I still be alive? I fall to my knees knowing I may never see that man again.
Months go by and I still think about the man who saved my life. How is he doing and has he made his way off the streets? It’s not often you meet a person who will change your outlook on life from a bleak, unfulfilling existence to a humbled respect for life and gratitude. I hope to see my hero again so I can invite him out for coffee or maybe dinner—to ask how he got in the position he’s in or just to ask his story. From that day forward I always carry an extra five dollars for those “just in case” situations; you never know when someone may return the favor.