Out for an evening run, I noticed an elderly looking woman standing in the driveway to an office building, hunched over, picking things up from the ground. It appeared as though she had dropped some change and was trying to collect it.
I trotted over, intent to help her recover whatever she had lost and get her out of the road. She was wearing fine clothes, and appeared to be in good health.
“What did you lose?” I asked.
“I’m picking up dirt.”
She looked up at me with an expression of honesty and kindness that somehow rebuked the crazy motive she had just announced for standing in the middle of the street.
“Well, that’s just dust from the asphalt, crumbles of rocks and stuff, I don’t think you’re going to get all that up. Why don’t you step over to the sidewalk?”
“NO, I’m picking up the STICKS. Those are from TREES, not the ROAD.”
“Hey, I’m just afraid you’re going to get hit by a car. This is a busy road, and it’s getting dark.”
She gestured around at all the empty office buildings – “Everyone is leaving! I am not going to get hit by a car. I’m picking this up because no one else does.”
She shot me a glare: “Are you an American?” she asked.
“Do you love Jesus?”
Feeling trapped, I began to answer, slowly realizing that my attempt to engage in neighborly assistance had somehow twisted into an exploration of the deepest fibers of my moral character. She tossed a few other strange questions at me, inquiring whether I had dinner, and what I ate, all the while grinning in a strange way.
Realizing that there was nothing I could do, short of trying to physically move her out of her current position, I jogged away, wishing her luck.
I made it back to my apartment, and attempted to turn the odd episode into a funny blog post. Ha ha, I met a crazy lady picking up dirt in the road!
I realized the situation wasn’t very funny, and that I was concerned about this person getting hit by a car, despite her condemnation at my refusal to declare love to Jesus in the middle of the road during a Tuesday evening jog.
I drove back to where she had been and noticed her bags still in the road, but her missing, so I phoned the police, on the basis that it was now dark and she was genuinely at risk of getting lost, or injured. They were familiar with her. I went on with my business.
I suppose I did the right thing, but now at work the next day, I’m still a little unsettled by it.
The woman appeared to be in her mid 70’s, which is a plentiful amount of years more than I have under my belt. When I asked her what she was doing and she said “picking up dirt,” I knew it was absurd, but she actually seemed to really believe that what she was doing had some great purpose.
If I flipped the context, and imagined someone very much younger than me.. say, 5 years old.. coming into my office today, and asking me what I’m doing. I would say “I’m trying to build a Chrome extension to run the Google BITE tool.”
In the context of a 5 year old’s reality, I would be as absurd saying that as the old woman had been saying to me that she was picking up dirt.
So whatever it was she was really doing, I hope I didn’t interrupt it too awfully by trying to save her from becoming a pedestrian accident statistic.