By Priyanka Bhatia For Daily Good
t occurred to me a little too late that I was in a sketchy part of town. In anticipation of making it to my massage appointment, I had actually gotten off my bus five blocks before my stop -- and by the looks of things that was the least of my problems.
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If it wasn't enough that I was young and clearly a college student, I was also wearing a bright pink T-shirt proclaiming that sex education saves lives; needless to say, I stuck out like a sore thumb in the southern town. Yet, even with my fingers trembling I was convinced that I would be perfectly safe, that I didn't have to rely on anyone for help. My cellphone was neatly tucked away in my handbag and my fear was causing me to start talking to myself. "It'll be okay, Priya. You've dealt with 2,000 pound horses, so a dangerous person is nothing to you." Much like my pride, my pep talks weren't very helpful but neither was the cooing I received from the next bus stop I contemplated waiting at.
Walking seemed like the only real option since I didn't see the point in calling for help and so I continued. I went another block and sat down impatiently waiting for the bus next to a cemetery when I first pretended not to notice them.
Two perfectly innocent strangers were walking right towards me but rather than seeing them as helpful, I saw them as dangerous. Dingy hair, a banged up eye, crutches and an old back pack were what greeted me as the woman sat down next to me. "What's your name?" "Annie," I lied because I was too scared to tell the truth. "You don't look like you belong here, where are you headed?" "I'm trying to get to Corporate Blvd but I got off the bus too early so I'm waiting for the next one. Do you know when it's coming around?" "Probably not for another hour but you should really get out of here before that. You're young and you don't blend in very well. I'm only helping you because you look like my niece and I can't see you get hurt. You're like fresh meat out here." The woman with stitches over her right eye pulled out her small wallet and showed me a picture of her beautiful niece. "You look exotic just like her. Isn't she pretty?" "She's gorgeous," I replied, shocked by the size of her injury as well as the picture of her fully clothed, clearly better off relative. "So Mike and I are going to walk you to wherever it is you need to go -- the bus station is only a few blocks away and you can catch the next bus out there but I want you to be safe." I could feel my jaw drop. "Thank you so much." "Don't mention it, we don't want you to get hurt."
I was blown away by their act of complete kindness and generosity. These were strangers who I had been afraid of but what I really learned instead, was that they were far better, stronger people than I had ever been. In this one moment of kindness these two homeless individuals had so unselfishly taken me three blocks to my destination telling me horror stories that I couldn't imagine.
The woman had been beaten with a bottle of alcohol after someone snuck into her tent and the evidence was as clear as the stitches over her eye. The man she was with, Mike never told me his story -- he was silent but helpful, mumbling occasionally and walking slowly along with his crutches and his casted arm.
After my agonizingly long wait at the station and being hit on by an elderly man, all I could think of was those two people. Those two wonderful people who had in that time made me realize how perpetually incredible and blessed my life is. "You be careful now, I'm gonna be worried about you all night." "Thank you both for everything; thank you so much." And even after calling my aunt to pick me up from my final destination, I couldn't help the tears from falling down my face.
How could two wonderful people be so incredibly stigmatized against to the point of being untouchable, unnoticeable, absent from every aspect of our lives to the point where we forget about them? Why is it that the first thing I noticed about them was their social economic status rather than their kindred spirits, their kind hearts or their simple humanity?
That common string keeping us together as creatures has gone from being so very inclusive to constantly being cut, separating us based on age, race, gender and now social economic class. Now, the commonality that used to be so standard -- our humanity -- has changed in such a way that we have to prove our likeness to others just to feel safe, to give us a false sense of security.
The problem lies in the fact that we've come to confuse rich and poor, old and young, black and white with good and evil -- forgetting that what actually defines us isn't what we look like but rather what we stand for as I was so humbly taught by Mike and Barbara.
This article is reprinted here with permission from the author. Priyanka Bhatia is a 19 year old Pre-Veterinary Sophomore at Louisiana State University and a writer for the Daily Reveille.