As I was running to catch the ferry today, weighted down with a heavy laptop bag and a large purse/bag, the top of my foot hit an uneven part of the pavement and I came crashing down. In a very undignified and sloppy way, I landed on my hands and knees, tangled in a web of bag straps.
I instantly felt an immensely sharp stinging pain in my knees as the surface of my flesh had been gouged out across the sidewalk. I next felt shock as I lifted my head up, looked down at the large hole in my black tights and saw bloody red circles on both knees. I then felt embarrassed. And then, as I stood to collect my stuff, I felt sad.
I was on a busy Seattle sidewalk along the waterfront. People were everyone. No one bothered to stop and help me or even ask if I was ok. They walked right by as if I wasn't there, on the ground, bleeding from my knees. In fact, I had been walking next to two business men who painfully waltzed right past me as I went down and continued walking by without so much as a glitch.
I walked down the street half a block when I passed a young, hipster-like man walking with a woman. As I passed, the man smiled, almost as if he were trying not to laugh and said to me, "We tried not to look because we didn't want you to be embarassed." He was smiling broadly and I somehow felt that his "kindness" was at my expense.
Good thing I was wearing sunglasses because as I walked the rest of the way to the ferry, and passed the two business men who had walked right by me (I walk fast, even with an injury), I started to cry. It was probably a mix of embarassment, shock, and pain--my knees are still stinging as I type this several hours later. But at the heart of my emotion was the feeling of isolation and callousness from stangers. I've fallen several times in public in Seattle (since law school my commute has always involved a lot of walking so it's bound to happen). But from each fall, I remember the kindness of at least one stranger. It's always embarrassing to take a public tumble. But I never knew how much the caloussness would hurt.
The hipster told me he "tried not to look" as if he were doing me some grand favor. Is that what we do here? When people are hurt and in pain, we try not to look? How completely sad is that? I admit that I generally prefer to mind my own business in public. I even like the fact that I can go out into public and expect not to be approached by people. I like that Seattleites are polite but not necessarily friendly or forward. But I've never known Seattleites to just walk by someone who has fallen without so much as batting an eye. Isn't that our natural instinct? When someone falls, to reach out and ask "are you ok?"
The funny thing is, while I was riding the bus last month, I overheard two people talking about Seattle. One said she was from the south and she thought Seattleites were cold people. She said, "If I fell on the street, I doubt anyone would help me, you know?" She then ranted about how southerners were so much nicer than Seattleites. The other guys didn't quite agree with her and neither did I. I was so tempted to speak up and defend my city. I wanted to butt-in and reassure the woman that I had fallen several times in downtown Seattle and had been offered assistance each time. I wanted her to know that we are nice people. But maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe the joke was on me?
So now I'm wondering, do people ignore others because they are genuinely worried about making people feeling embarrassed? Or is it a crutch. An excuse to not care or to even bother? Either way, I really AM embarrassed--embarrassed by the callousness of my peers.