sunday post: small rescue.
by Michael King
January in New York City, and the sun showed up and washed gold over everything. I’m standing in my apartment, palms at the edges of my window, peering not out but straight down. A hundred feet below, men are at work pulling down the scaffolding.
Steel beams punctuating the sidewalk, green panels linked and reinforced with wooden planks, scaffolds across the city signal humankind’s ongoing effort to hold its own in the fight against nature. For sidewalk travelers, however, scaffolding is a strange nuisance, narrowing the sidewalk and shrinking an often-claustrophobic city. When, at last, a project is completed and scaffolding disappears, city blocks are washed brand new. The time has come, finally, for the scaffolding in front of my building to come down.
I’ve got a fine view of the process: From the far left, a worker pulls boards up, one plank at a time, and travels to the next man, who takes it from him and walks to the next, the pank exchanging hands until the last man tosses it onto the back of a waiting truck. I watch, near-hypnotized, the accordion rhythm of people working together. Soon, I notice one man in the assembly line is barely moving, the men before and after him walking fast enough that he is something of a stationary liaison, both accepting a plank and passing it on from the same spot. Hm, I shrug and pull away from the window. Next to me, my basil plants droops melodramatically. I pour the rest of my water over it, watching it for a moment. It remains stoic.
Pulled by the second hand, I leave my apartment behind and make my way back to work. On the elevator, I comb over the day thus far, mentally resuming the workday rhythm. I step outside, January air patting my face in welcome, and I notice the works have come down, most likely for lunch.
“I’m so slow today,” one of them says to the others. He sounds defeated. “This fucking leg.”
“You kidding me?” another man says, “Most days, you pick up the slack for the rest of us.”
Light melts through ice, and gold washes over everything. A small decision, perhaps, to be gentle with somebody, to be gracious, but a heroic one nonetheless.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that are friends are the people who rescue us. It sounds nice enough, sure, but I’m convinced. I sift through the pages of this story often, perhaps more than I should, and there’s evidence in every chapter.
The day I came out to my parents, I arrived at my apartment and sank into the couch. I was hit, abruptly, by the irreversibility of what I’d just done. My life had a clear ‘before’ and ‘after’ now, and today was the dividing line. All those years of hiding, of trading away the truth for simplicity, and now my skin was acquainting with the open air. Some quiet eternities later, my phone beeped, a text from a friend: Come outside! I pulled open the door, spotted three of my friends, smiling at me. They handed me a cup of frozen yogurt, piled high with rainbow candy. “You did it!” they cheered. “You came out!”
There’s my friend who sat me down, in the week following my first heartbreak, and put a meal in front of me. “I know you’re not eating, so eat,” she said, “and tell me whatever it is you think is so bad.”
Or the one who noticed me distancing myself from all the people who called both me and my ex friends, who reached out and told me, “Hey. For what it’s worth, I’ll always choose you.”
I think of the friend who reached out to walk campus, three times a week, for months following my second heartbreak. All those long laps, beneath the quiet night sky, listening to me sort through and dissect the same difficult wound.
I’ve had friends show up like this at every bend in the road, through the rises and falls of love, the decision to pack up life and move from Indiana to New York, all the growing pains of a person emerging. They show up, and it always feels unmistakably like rescue.
They are the loves of my life. Each time I go to speak about them, I discover flowers blooming eagerly within.
Heroism, as I learned it growing up, belongs only to the exceptional. Heroes command superpowers, long-honed combat skills, brilliant minds, unmistakable magic. These were the storied rescuers, and so rare and exceptional were they.
The older I get, the more I realize that heroism is in all our hands, and it hides among the most mundane images. The woman on the train, observing a frail old man without a seat, who stands and pretends this was her plan all along. The student who sets aside her breakfast, walks nearby to her crying friend, and wraps her shoulders in a quiet, steady hug. The man in the bright orange vest shaking off his coworker’s worry that he’s bothering everybody with his hurt leg.
This is, perhaps, my favorite kind of love. Small rescue –– conscious acts, seemingly inconsequential, but whose impact is unspeakably significant. Bridging the gaps between humans, carrying us all over the worry that maybe we’re not enough. Perhaps this is the love that will save the day, after all.