via Daily Prompt
I turned, and saw her; my eyes lighting first upon her smile, warm, easy and genuine. I record all that in the mili-instant before my attention registers her outstretched hand, holding a water bottle.
We’re on Crissy Fields, in San Francisco, my young song in my arms (back when I could carry him across the globe on my shoulders). The sun, now fully awake, has fully melted off the morning frost, leaving wet marsh in its wake, and we are in the loosely spaced crowd of spectators all carefully side-stepping the grassy muddy wetlands. Mi Bellasposa is expected to cross the finish line soon; she, a runner, math whiz, and Swiss all but guarantees that she will cross the finish line exactly when she predicted. So, by her calculations we will see her in 2 minutes.
Like any big running event, all the race sponsor and race vendor tents are lightly scattered about, many of them on on mostly dry land.
With my wife under 3 minutes away I am in desperate need of water. Well, not really. I didn’t need the water, I needed to be seen holding water. My wife is fanatical about always having water on her, and, by mammalian-extension, fanatical about always having it on-hand for our son. Me, I could go all day on one glass, but her? Well, if ClearPee needed a spokesperson and assuming Jennifer Aniston was conflicted out due to her other endorsements, she’d be it.
So, back to the water bottle.
This is the lulling time for them, the vendors; between the table setup and before the throngs of racers cross the finish line. Those that are not putting finishing touches on their table displays are chatting among themselves. Spotting an Aquafina (proud sponsor) table I goosestep-wade over. The table is ‘manned’ by a handful of teenagers, and ‘she’ spots me before I spot her, my attention on keeping my 4yr old aloft and my sneakers mudfree. As I make my way to her stand I am only vaguely aware her scrutiny, chalking it up to concern that I’m going to drop my child.
“Hi,” I say, greeting her with a smile. “Can he have one,” I ask, managing to indicate my firstborn with one hand and the stack of bottles with the other?
My smile is not returned. “These are for racers,” she intones, sotto voce.
As a spiritual person, I try not assume the worst in people, and give the benefit of doubt:
- Maybe she was just following instructions she received prior.
- Maybe she’d had a bad day.
- Maybe She just didn’t like the way I looked
“Okay,” I reply turn and leave. After, all..only one minute left before my wife crosses the finish line. I get about 50 yards away, snaking my way through the other tents looking for my wife and perhaps someone’s selling water nearby, before I hear her.
“Excuse me,” and I turn to see her.
No, not the girl from the table, the one who said no. It’s one of the other girls from that table decked out in similar Asani, proud sponsor garb. She’s beaming; a warm and genuine smile on her face, and in her hand,
a bottle of water.
Reaching for the bottle I lookup and register her face, for the second time.
Her smile. It is not forced, like the one we wear tos acknowledge someone without engaging them, nor is of the apologetic we wear to shield ourselves from panhandlers and salesmen alike.
Her smile. Her outstretched hand. The offered bottle.
Thank you I say, and her smile grows a fraction brighter, before she quickly turns and ambles back to her stand, immediately lost among the growing crowd.
“Mama!” My son’s voice rings out, and I turn to see my wife running up..sweaty, redfaced and beaming, still high on race endorphins. I waddle over and we three embrace in a big sweaty mess.
I reflect on that often. She would have had to seen the cold shoulder her co-worker gave me, and decided to be better, to be the better person, and then walk 50 yds through people to find me (well, that’s not hard, there were only so many 6’3″ dreadlocked fathers carrying children in San Francisco, and I’m the other one).
When I think of people I admire, people who don’t just do, but try to do better,..
When I feel jaded by the actions and inactions of our youth and our selfie-nation,..
I am reminded of her, and her simple act of human kindness.
and that smile.