You were driving down the street toward your house when you saw a giant turtle at the crosswalk with a long stick protruding from his shell. For some reason, the sight of a giant turtle struggling to cross the street in the middle of the coldest January you can remember didn’t strike you as strange, although maybe it should have. You thought, “how odd, a giant turtle right there on my street,” and kept driving.
The second you drove past the giant wiggling turtle, you screeched the brakes and crunched to a stop in the middle of what you call a curb snowbank and the city of Minneapolis calls a plowed street. This was not a giant wiggling turtle, it was an old, large man in a dark green nylon parka, and he was fallen down onto his stomach. The long stick? His cane, extended before him.
“Sir, what’s the best way for me to help you?”
“Up. Help me up.”
You bent down and got your arms around his chest and lifted. He made it partway up and then lowered down again. He was heavy. It seemed that he had been struggling to get up for some time; he was shaky and he had a slightly panicky look in his eyes. You remembered the woman you used to live down the street from, who had ripped her back apart trying to lift a patient out of a tub. You realized that you had no idea at all of how to get this man to his feet.
“Okay, this is what we’re going to do, sir. I’m going to lift slowly as you brace yourself on one leg. We’re going to rise together very steadily as you keep putting your weight on that leg. When we’re halfway up, you can put weight on your other leg as well.”
Where the hell did that come from? You know nothing about lifting heavy people off the ice and snow and onto their feet. Good God. And yet the words kept coming out of your mouth, soft and reassuring, as if you were some kind of expert.
“Are you ready? On the count of three.”
He braced his weight on his left leg while you lifted slowly and steadily. Halfway up, he put weight on his other leg as well. Then he was fully up, and you handed him his walking stick.
“Can I give you a ride home, sir?”
“Shall I walk you across the street?”
Across the street you hobbled together, until he was on the other side and making his way down the poorly-shoveled sidewalk. Thank you, miss. You’re welcome, sir. Treacherous walking out here. Horrible winter. Stay warm. And off he went, and into your house you went, to stand by the fire and try to keep yourself upright and steady. For how long?