Friday, April 26, 2013

Blind Eye

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.


  1. So sorry about your fall! Were you heading to work or home? I think it's a mixture of things 1) people don't want to embarrass someone 2) People don't want to stop and help and have someone freak out on them ie How dare you think I can't pick myself up and brush myself off, get away from me! 3) people don't have time/don't care and just want to get where they are going as soon as they can. Sad that people don't feel they can/want to help out sometimes :(

  2. As a transplant to the Seattle area and working in and going to school in Seattle, I found Seattleites very kind--and I have lived all over the United States. They are even nice drivers, comparatively with other cities.

    I still remember when I had my first day of orientation for my new job after moving to the area from Maine. I was taking the buses into Seattle. I had gone on the Transit page and downloaded the trip plan, but somehow it was wrong or I read it wrong. When I got to Westlake, I was pretty sure I was wrong and got off the bus and was staring at a wall of schedules trying to figure out how to get to a place I had never been before. This lady walked up out of nowhere and asked me where I was trying to go and told me which bus to get on. Things like that happened the entire time I lived and worked and studied in the area.

    Somehow, I think you just got the wrong mix of people that day. I hope it is not a sign of a changing trend in Seattlelites--because my experiences there made me a better person, made me more of a person reaching out to others.

    Sorry for the tumble and the reactions.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

  3. I will add one thing though. Have you ever walked up the stairs to the street level from the King Street train station at commuter time in the morning? I always took the train into Seattle to go to school. One day, I almost dropped my glove on those stairs and I remember specifically thinking that if I had, I would have let it go and just kept going up the stairs because otherwise I would have been crushed and caused a lot of other injuries in trying to stop and pick it up. It was not because people were mean or callous--it was because we were always packed in so tight walking up those steps at least three abreast and right on each others heels. People directly behind me would not have had time to react and the people behind them would not be able to see what had happened ahead and would have pushed into them--on stairs. It would have literally caused a 50-people pileup, at a minimum. There were always a few people who actually ran as they got off the train so they could reach the stairs first and be in front of that mass of people.

    I think you are coming from the ferry in commuter pedestrian traffic? Maybe it was something like that? The sea of people simply parted and went around you so as not to cause a chain reaction? I will admit, though, that a person is infinitely more important than a glove and sidewalks less dangerous than stairs.

    Someone could have offered a kind word, at the very least.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

  4. Have you seen this article yet? I thought of you immediately when I read it.