Wednesday, July 16, 2003

*Real* opportunity cost

My last entry was less of a whine about my current positions in life, and more of a comparative analogy to recent events that inspired me to step back and reconsider the feeling of vulnerability I know so many of us have.

I was not whining, I was feeling rather reassured.

Quite a few people I know these days, of all ages and locations, are faced with career, marriage and citizenship choices. They all know what they want: happiness, reasonable freedom and above all fulfillment. This translates loosely into: success. I am not talking about the American dream. As far as I can tell, the American dream has been appropriated by the media and it's less of a dream and more of a military mandate as of late, so I will just talk about something more new-agey. I am talking about how hard it is, once we know what we want, to develop the best way to get there. We feel as though, if we mess something major up along the way, the destination just won't quite be all we'd imagined if we find it at all. That scares the hell out of most of us, which is why we developed mottos like: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. We remind ourselves, that we have to enjoy the journey. We do *have* to enjoy the journey when we can, but I'm saying it's very OK to be scared sometimes.

I found myself walking along Rue St. Catherine, the shopping district, taking another unplanned day off work due to visitors from out of town. I was thinking of my opportunity cost. I felt I should have been working, or at least learning how to make video clips on my computer or something. Justifying my day off by thinking of it as an investment in my long term future proved effective, though. These were no run-of-the-mill visitors; these were potential in-laws. I plan to like my potential in-laws and have them like *me* dammit!! Since my plan seems to be working, I allowed myself to feel productive, and therefore, happy.

As we walked along in this bustling busy wave of shoppers, I noticed an unhappy little girl crossing the street with the pack of people we'd joined. She was on the heels of her mother, a cold looking woman in a business suit, and I felt sad for her. She looked as though her mother was very angry. The little girl was wringing her hands and her bottom lip trembled. The woman was so angry she didn't even look back to see if the little girl was ok.

My god, I thought, how can anyone be irresponsible enough to allow a child to walk through a crowd like this without holding her hand. The girl was in a slow run, keeping up with this woman. I was very concerned so I hurried my pace to keep up with them. At this point, I really looked at the dirty t-shirt the little girl was wearing, how her curls hadn't been brushed, that her sneakers were muddy and thought this prim and spotless mother and muddy sneaker-wearing daughter match was an unlikely pair. I fought through the crowd to get closer to the girl and asked her, "Are you lost?"

She nodded and took my hand. It almost broke my heart. It *did* upset my stomach.

I told her she was OK and I was going to help her. We walked nearer to the buildings and I became fearful that she would get lost in the crowd again. Someone had already lost her! She looked so vulnerable in this crowd, I wouldn't be able to bear knowing it happened to her again. I felt it was very important to tell her exactly what the game plan was for getting her back to her parents. We would go to a store and ask to use their phone, so we could call the police and tell them that she has lost her daddy. The police would call her daddy and tell him not to worry, they would get Sonia to him as soon as possible.

But, I wasn't thinking clearly. My boyfriend was with me and I had forgotten he had a cell phone. We could have called right there. In any case, he took care of the police report while I entertained this little girl. She was a darling 8 years old with a quivering lip that almost made me cry. Instead, I joked around with her, asked her questions about her dad, what she did that day and all the while I was thinking: I am still a stranger to her. I wanted nothing more than for her to know she was absolutely safe. This was more than I could ask.

We were instructed to bring her to a specific street corner where we would meet the police. It was a long 10 minutes of waiting once we got there, but this little girl was so brave. She had tears in her eyes, and looked as though if she started she wouldn't stop. Sonia held them back. I told her it was OK to feel scared, that it could happen to anyone, that her dad surely had already spoken with the police and that in a few minutes they would come. I think I talked too much, but it stopped her from crying.

The officer parked across the street and we waved him down. I introduced Sonia, and said in a light silly voice, "She's lost her daddy." The officer answered saying, "Well Sonia, we just *found* your daddy!" He thanked us, too, and I felt like gushing a "you're welcome." But, I feared if I started *I* might not stop. Besides, there was no one really to thank here, we all just did what was necessary.

At that age, kids often still have the impression that policemen are altruists, that their job is to help people...and I could see the relief in her face. Finally she felt completely safe. Midway through the crosswalk, she turned and yelled, "Thank you." My heart broke for the second time that day. I didn't want to let her go, I was still worried for her.

In the same way I have felt a major soft spot with doctors who have helped me or my family in a time of need, I loved this little girl immediately.

The event has taken me a while to get over. I was so relieved that *I* was the one to find her. It is scary enough having children walking with you on a busy street, knowing the frightening variety of people there...especially in that part of town, but thinking that she was ALONE just makes me ill. Now, I am not giving myself credit as the only person who would have helped her. There were so many other people around and they saw her, too. It just scared me that I was the first one to step in. The point, though, is that I did. I will never see her again, I will never meet her father...but for all three of us, it turned out OK.

It's OK to be scared, we just can't lose hope.

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