available for interruption

Recently, I took part in a walking funeral procession on a rainy morning in Manhattan. It began with dozens of us gathered on a little side street. One of the organizers had quieted us so she could speak about the man who’d died and let us know what route the procession would take. There was no traffic, so I stood in the street with a few others, behind the crowd on the sidewalk.

A woman on her way to work – with coffee in hand, walking at that busy New York City pace – had to go around our group in order to continue down the East Third Street sidewalk. Though this added a mere ten seconds to her commute, she was quite irritated. “You’re blocking the sidewalk!” she hollered as she rushed past, shaming us with a scowl.

I was reminded of a time when I was escorting a very elderly man on a busy sidewalk uptown. He was panting with exhaustion and leaning most of his weight onto me. I feared he was on the verge of collapse. People rushed past us, and I cried out to get their attention. “Hey! Someone help us! Go in that restaurant and bring a chair out here! He needs to sit down!” Some people heard me but didn’t stop to help. One man, with a panicked look, said, “They won’t let me take a chair!”

The connection between these two moments, for me, is that both of those people were unavailable for interruption. Not just interruption from whatever inner conversation was propelling them down the sidewalk, but interruption from what they had deemed rational.

That panicked man viewed my request for a chair as irrational. If he had, instead, recognized that it was a medical emergency and that a medical emergency took precedence over the proper location of a chair, he surely would have helped.

That woman on East Third Street viewed our group as irrational, crowding a city sidewalk, doing something wrong. If she had, instead, taken a moment to see that we were a love-filled group in mourning, that this was a very unique circumstance, she wouldn’t have been so quick to anger. Maybe she would’ve joined us!

I have surely been unavailable for countless interruptions, especially as I rush along New York City sidewalks on my fast, long legs. But I’m determined to be more available for them, more available to be taken off my guard when an occasion merits it. After all, life is full of interruptions. Life is irrational at times.

So… are you available?