Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Critical Mom and the Crazy Lady

If she was.  That's what I don't know.  I was standing on a tram platform on a cold, windy day with my daughter.  We were on our way to the local ballet school for her lesson and mine.  For the first time, it was cold enough for scarves and gloves.  But under the shelter, which offers protection from rain, not cold, a young woman sat crouched on the bench, wearing a sundress.  No shoes, and barelegged.  I glanced at her through the corner of my eye.  A wandering schizophrenic?  You know how schizophrenics are . . . always wearing coats and scarves when it's 100ºF (38ºC).  And when it's freezing cold, they wander around half-naked.  Which was what she was doing, or so I thought.  But then I saw how she was crouching on the bench, apparently conserving body heat and incidentally putting her feet in a slightly warmer place than the frozen concrete of the tram platform.  She stared straight ahead, her jaw set, with an expression suggesting to me that she was willing herself to endure the cold, or that at least in her mind she was traveling to a warmer place.  I thought to myself as I pulled my coat around me that a saint would take off his or her coat and wrap it around the woman.  I had on a nice wool shawl, which I fingered, considering removing it and wrapping it around her.  Everyone else on the platform was looking the other way . . . I was actually--but unbelievably--hoping that some tram platform cleaner, or a nun, or a social worker would run up and offer help and a hot bowl of soup.   I looked down into my ballet bag and considered giving her the sweatshirt I wear for warm-ups.  Clean but worn, it's one I've had for years and about which I'm sentimental, since my husband gave it to me.  What if I gave it to her and she started screeching paranoid accusations and came after me with a knife?  And my daughter was there, and when I said, "Listen, I think I'll give that lady my sweatshirt," she said, "Mommy, I'm scared."  I told her to stay where she was, walked a few feet down the platform--but I could still see my daughter, standing a little ways away-- and asked the lady--auf Deutsch-- if she'd like a sweatshirt.
"Ach, schön!" ("Oh, nice!") she exclaimed animatedly with an expression of delight--as if I had handed her my coat--and put it on immediately.  So maybe she wasn't crazy.  Maybe she was an illegal immigrant whose shoes had been taken so she wouldn't run away from the sweatshop or the brothel.  But she had the guts to run away, and the night got colder, and I hope she managed to avoid freezing to death.
Or maybe she really was just a wandering schizophrenic.  But one with the sense to put on a sweatshirt.


  1. You did a good thing and the good karma will come back to you. Not least of all, your daughter saw your compassion and in the future it will guide her to do the right thing in a similar moment.

    Brava, Mama!

  2. I hope so . . . by the time I'd handed her the sweatshirt I was reverting to the Oh She Is A Nut After All opinion because she did smell very bad. But so do folks who are imprisoned in sweat shops, and she did not sound or act crazy.

  3. I'm glad you decided to offer her help. Not just for the sake of her, or yourself, but also because a good number of the people around you were no doubt watching you, and seeing that it can be done. And of course, you set an example for your daughter. Compassion is so important, --

    In the end, whether or not she had mental health problems makes no difference: 'crazy' or not, she's somebody's daughter and she was freezing.