Lost In Translation OR “You Had Me At Yellow”

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#16. Perform a Random Act of Kindness.

It is five o’clock and I am about to leave the twenty-story office building that I call home during my five-day work week. I breathe a sigh of relief, because I have made it through yet another nine-hour shift of constant customer service interactions. Opening the brass doors of the ornate, white terracotta entry of this historic building I am struck with a profuse, warm, heat. From Jackson Avenue, the only sounds I hear are the distant rumblings from the elevated train and the rhythmic clapping of shoes beating against the pavement.

As I begin to walk, my red polo-shirt clings to my body. When I reach the end of the block, the traffic signal has just turned from red to green, and the pedestrian walk signal motions with its flashing orange palm for me to halt. I wait. My phone pulses in my pocket, as it has been set to vibrate during my entire workday. As I retrieve it, I notice a text message from my fiancé asking me to meet him a few blocks down the street. This is a usual custom for us, to meet, if we both are ending our shift at work around the same time; and ride home together. I am happy, because most days it is a slow train commute home alone. I reply with a quick, “on my way” or something less memorable, then I hear a voice from behind which stops me in my tracks.

I do not recognize the voice, it is soft, and the English is muddled. I think to myself, “I am off the clock,” but, I turn around anyway and flash the young girl a smile. “Excuse me” she says, “do you know how to get to the green line train?” I look around for the entry of the train station, and remember that today is Sunday. Thinking to myself, I conclude that the CTA is working on the green line rails and have rerouted the trains from the east side of the loop. I ask her, “which way are you headed? North or South?” A look of puzzlement develops on her face and she says, “I do not understand.” I take another breath in, sigh and ask her again hurriedly “where are you going?” She replies “Oak Park.” Her dark brown hair hangs down past her shoulders in a long braid which she tucks behind her as she pulls her backpack around to her chest. “Okay, you need to head North,” I reply. “Now, we are getting somewhere.” I announce, pleased with myself and our progress to communicate with each other. Then I take a moment to think.

By now the traffic signal has changed again and I look up to see that the walk signal is illuminated. Quickly, I ask to see her map so that I may show her where to go and still make a dash across the street before the light changes again. Slowly, she removes the folded map from her back pack, and while she does this, I explain that the trains have all been rerouted due to construction. I show her on the map the section of train lines that are being worked on, and suggest that she goes to the closest station on State and Van Buren to ask an attendant which train she could transfer to. Still confused, she looks at me like a lost puppy, a quiet sadness in her brown eyes. Maybe I was feeling guilty about trying to send her off so quickly, or maybe I had taken pity of her because it was the right thing to do, but, either way, I decided to take her there myself. “Would you like me to show you the way?” I asked. “Yes, please” she replied with hope filling her eyes. Then she smiled. “My name is Amelia.” I returned the smile and shook her hand. It was then that I pointed on the map toward the train station, and again, she looked puzzled. As we walked west a few blocks together, I felt that it was my duty to see that she arrived at her destination, or as close as I could get her to it. While we walked we asked each other questions back and forth, alternating between attentive listening and responding I learned that she was visiting from Columbia, South America. Politely, she asked me about my job and how long I had lived in the city.

When we reached the next closed train station, once again, I showed her on the map the route she should continue walking. I told her “this is as far I can take you,” waited a minute then asked her “do you know where to go?” She smiled and said, “Yes, thank you.” Then proceeded to wrap her arms around me. “I would have never found my way without you,” she continued. Opening her backpack she pulled a small bracelet from her zipper pouch and fit it around my wrist. “This will bring you good luck,” she said. Once again we embraced, as I wished her well and thanked her for her generosity. As I watched her walk away, I was almost behooved to tears. Because of the involuntary act of kindness I had shown to this girl, she herself had instinctively made the rest of my day better for it. Thank you Amelia for reminding me that a little kindness can make the world a better place.

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