I was in a hurry to get somewhere, run a few errands, and then get back to work.
I could feel the pressure of hours slipping away as I leaned out yet again to see if the bus was coming down the street.
Finally, I spotted the 78 Montrose from blocks away and pulled out my card.
The bus stopped, and I stepped back to let the elderly woman step down safely to the curb before I was going to get on, find a seat and, at last, get under way.
However, there was a large, uneven pile of snow and ice, at least a foot high between the woman and a safe landing. She hesitated, shifted a cane between her hands and let out a small, "Oh."
My sense of urgency quickly dropped away and I put out a hand to help her navigate the terrain. The woman took my hand, lettings most of her weight rest against me as she grasped my fingers tightly. We worked in concert until she was safely on the cleared sidewalk, and then she quickly let go without a backward glance and headed down the street.
Watching the woman wobble away made me wonder if I'd still have enough courage to keep wandering city streets when it became difficult to just get on and off a bus. I used to be able to put that one quickly out of my mind, but turning 50 and having to use a cane for just a few weeks last year has changed my outlook. Fortunately, I feel pretty good about my odds that someone would be there to help me as well, even if our entire encounter lasts for just a moment.
Those small interactions between strangers go on all the time in big cities where it's necessary to help each other out in order to remain human and to keep things flowing forward. It's not true what people say about large American cities being cold where people are constantly yelling at each other.
It's true that there's a certain brusqueness. People expect you to cut to the chase and be clear about what you want, but that can be refreshing as well. There are no long stories before it's possible to discern the point or the need, and once the transaction is complete, everyone can get back to their own business.
Now, when I had to ride the Chicago El with a cane in hand, it didn't always happen that anyone would offer me a seat and there was a ride on the red line when everyone suddenly started staring off into the distance as if I'd become invisible.
And there was that other time when a bus driver started up before I'd gotten to a seat almost sending me to the floor as I shouted, "Wait!, wait!" But, for the most part, people got out of the way or offered a hand, which was greatly appreciated.
The most interesting thing about being of service to someone else is not what the other person may give back to me. After all, the elderly woman never really looked me in the eye much less said, thank you, and I get that too.
Her focus was on the long walk ahead. The cool part is what I give to myself because the moment I decide to reach outside of my own concerns I drop the idea that they were so important. Things fall back, once again, into a saner perspective.
To-do lists become right-sized and there aren't three-alarm-bells going off inside my head as I wonder if I can get everything done, get it done to a certain satisfaction and then get up and do it again.
I get a reminder in the form of another human being willing to accept help that we all work together in this world to the best of our ability. Sometimes, we take the help when it's needed, and sometimes, we put out our hand. More adventures to follow.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. Her latest book, "Live Your Big Adventure," is available at www.MarthasBi.