Intimacy among strangers

April 25, 2013|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

It was not a great area of town in which to be walking after dark. Her vulnerability seemed to be exacerbated by the fact that it was cold and she had no coat, and because she was using a walker that was weighed down by a few shopping bags.

I spotted the woman as I drove by one recent night on my way home. I watched her slowly lumbering up the street as I sat at a red light. It occurred to me to ask if she needed help. But she was too far away, and once the light turned I couldn't find a good place to safely pull over.

But the farther down the road I got, the greater my sentiment grew that I needed to go back. So I found a place to turn around, crossed traffic and pulled up near the woman.

As I unlocked my doors and got of my vehicle, I stayed at a distance so I wouldn't alarm her. As she drew closer, I asked if she could use some help. She was ambivalent.

 "I don't know," she said, looking behind her and ahead, apparently considering how far she had left to go. "I think getting this walker and these bags in the car and then out again would just be more trouble."

She said she only had about a block to go to get to her apartment. I asked if she was sure, reassuring her that it would not be a problem.

"No," she said. "I'm sure. But could I have a hug?"

We stood on the sidewalk on a cold Saturday night, two strangers, hugging. And perhaps oddly, it felt wonderful. Normal. Like the way things should be. We talked for a few minutes, then she told me she loved me, and I told her back and meant it.

 I don't think things like this happen by accident.

Just three days before, I'd been driving through a residential section in the warm, early evening when I saw an older woman standing next to her car with the door open in the middle of the road. I was running late, and noble, selfless person that I am, I considered driving on by. Thankfully, I didn't.

The woman was looking around, confused and troubled. When I began to talk with her, I noticed she spoke as if perhaps she had previously had a stroke or another medical issue that mildly affected her speech. She said she had lost her dog and thought he was running loose in the area. She seemed unable to call him with much strength or volume.

I spotted a dog running a distance up the road and asked if it was hers. She couldn't see that far, she said, but it must be. I drove up slowly, fearing that if I ran up, I'd chase him off. When I got out of the van and called to him, the plump, golden beagle came to me like we were old friends. He had one bum leg, but he clearly got around alright. I led him to his owner's car, where he lobbed himself in to the passenger seat, happy to see her. The woman was in tears, overwhelmed and relieved.

I've been wondering what I am supposed to take from the two brief but poignant encounters that happened in a four-day frame. Perhaps a lesson will continue to unfold as I grow old and wise. For now, aging and bumbling but eager to learn, I am keeping my eyes open, with a fresh awareness that just by paying a little attention, slowing down and responding, a couple of spirits can share an encouraging and uplifting moment with enduring significance.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

The Herald-Mail Articles