Yesterday I was at the local laundromat. This because the Carenen Cottage is undergoing construction for an addition, which rendered our old laundry room nonexistent and the new laundry room not ready yet. It's a nice, clean, efficient laundromat with good machines that work. It costs around $15 to do our laundry. That's 60 quarters, enough to make me happy someone invented belts a few years ago. But I digress.
There was a frail, skinny, old man trying to do his laundry. He wore a baseball cap on his knobby head perched on a scrawny neck. His long-sleeved, faded shirt had a tear in the back exposing saggy skin. His pants were baggy and he wore scuffed, ratty shoes barely held together. He shuffled. I think he got there just before I did. He was fumbling with how the washing machines worked. I looked up and saw a lady come his way and I immediately went into my judgmental role. She was in her 30's, overweight, and spoke like a redneck and I judged her. There, it's out.
Then she pleasantly and kindly went about helping the man get his laundry done. Once the machines were going, she sat with him and struck up a conversation. I overheard him say that he was 90 years old, his wife had passed on, he was a World War II veteran, and he lived alone here in Travelers Rest. The two of them had a conversation while I read my James Lee Burke novel.
Time passed and the old man's laundry was washed and ready for the dryer. The lady kept helping, not doing, but helping. The old man was not incompetent. He was just very old, and the lady helped. I did nothing but watch and feel ashamed for not helping first, for letting someone else lead while I watched. Finally, the lady had to go, and an opportunity opened. When his clothes dried, I held two pillowcases open and we stuffed his clothes in. Finished, I put the two fat pillowcases in the back seat of his car and watched as the old man climbed behind the wheel of his rusty old gas guzzler and slowly drove away.
Then I went back to my book about the bayous, less ashamed than I had been, grateful for the guilt-driven opportunity to knock my self-centeredness back a notch or two. Appreciative for learning there's more to people than the way they look or talk. Uneasy about the next time something like that happens when I hope I can become more of a man.