On my daily walk along the streets of Jersey City, I see happiness, I hear laughter — and sometimes — I am a witness to death. This week, the weather here has been exceptionally punishingly hot, and when I stepped out into 99 degrees of a steaming, urban, core, I wanted to get my walk over quickly and efficiently.
As I strolled by Christ Hospital, I saw a woman walking in circles ahead of me.
She would start walking one way, then turn around and walk the other. She seemed disoriented and alone.
As I slowed down to creep past her, I saw her eyes were glazed. Her skin was creviced and grey. She looked to be around 35 years old — but the points of her bones were poking against her breezy shirt — making her appear over 80.
When I tried to anticipate her next move — she was erratically blocking the sidewalk — I saw a large, computer-generated, self-stick label stuck on her shirt near her abdomen. A single word was written on that patch of paper in bold, black, type: CHEMO.
The woman’s head was swiveling around and her eyes touched the sky.
She wasn’t going to faint, but I also didn’t think she knew where she was.
At that critical moment when one is faced with a decision to intervene or keep walking, I reached out to touch her hand — and a nurse from the hospital came running out of the admissions office and replaced my hand with hers and gently led the woman back inside the hospital.
As I continued my walk, 20 paces before me on the same stretch of sidewalk, stood two young girls waiting for the bus. Their cherubic, angelic, faces were grinning pink as they giggled. They were wearing white lace dresses and their hair was done up in delicate ponytails. Their red, patent leather, shoes shone back the sun.
I curved around the girls at the bus stop to soldier on with my walk.
As the noontime sun beat down on my sweating neck, I reflected back on the two moments I had just left behind and I coldly realized there are everyday heroes that don’t seek out celebrity, but who deserve fame for fighting back against the vulgarity of the human condition.
In the span of busy sidewalk and 30 steps or so — I’d just witnessed the two spectacular ends of the spectrum of life: One waiting for me. The other long gone.