I thought I was in the Minneapolis airport the other day, but it turns out I was actually in Cincinnati.
Wherever I was, I was reminded of something that I witnessed in an airport last year that has been dogging me ever since.
Actually, I think about it even when I’m not traveling because, well, like I said, it’s been dogging me.
I think it was at the end of last summer. I don’t remember where I was, but it’s not important anyway. I was on my way to some place – which is also not important – and I had a small travel bag slung over my shoulder and my computer bag in hand.
I approached an escalator so I could go up to the ticketing level, and at its base was a woman and her two young children.
As I watched the woman and her two kids, there was a pronounced *thud* and the four of us looked up. It took me a few seconds to register what I was seeing.
Two elderly women were on the escalator. One of them had dropped her suitcase and had somehow fallen so that she was on her back, with her feet pointed upstairs and her head pointed downstairs in our direction.
Her traveling companion was awkwardly trying to push her up by the shoulders but it was literally an uphill battle, as the fallen woman was almost upside down with her feet higher than her head.
I was thinking that I should do something to help when a man and a woman walked up, sort of on the side of the escalator. They appeared to be in their early thirties. He had dark brown hair and a mustache. She was lithe and blond. They were attractive and fit.
They looked up to see the fallen woman and her companion struggling to right her, when suddenly, the man dropped his duffel bag and sprang like a cat. He planted his right hand on the edge of the escalator and vaulted over the side. He reached the women in a flash, flung aside the fallen suitcase, grabbed the fallen woman’s wrist and spun her around so her head was pointed upstairs.
In a word, he was magnificent.
Then he yanked on her arm several times to try to help her up — I have to admit that I was cringing at that point, thinking he might dislocate her shoulder — and I was wondering if he would get her on her feet before they reached the top.
That’s when the escalator lurched to a stop.
I looked to the very top and an older man had bent down to somehow turn off the moving stairway.
I glanced down and there, not three feet in front of me, on the front edge of the escalator, was a large, flat, square, red button embossed with the words, “PRESS FOR EMERGENCY STOP.” I could have easily reached forward and punched that button myself.
I was almost mesmerized at that point, watching the man with the moustache trying to get the woman up, the older man coming down the now-stationary stairs to help out, the companion woman picking up the fallen woman’s suitcase, the alarm buzzer from the stopped escalator sounding in short bursts.
And what had I done? Not a damn thing. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to hit the emergency stop button.
I like to think that I’m a take-action kind of guy. A go-getter of some sort. Maybe even chivalrous. But as I stood there flat-footed, rooted in place, I looked around and found myself standing with the women and children while the men were up on the escalator doing something.
I didn’t even wait to see what happened, whether the fallen woman was okay. I turned and slunk away with my feelings of inadequacy. If I’d had a tail, it would have been tucked squarely between my legs.
And at that moment, I began to doubt myself. So who exactly do I think that I am? What kind of man am I that I didn’t do anything to help that woman?
Eventually, I wandered back over to the scene of the crime. No one was there, the escalator was still stopped and its alarm was still buzzing. I looked up along the stationary stairway and thought, “Hey, Escalator, how about another chance?”
I’d like to be able to tell you that, since then, I’ve had some sort of revelation or epiphany, or received some words of wisdom from someone to help me erase the doubts, but I don’t have anything like that to share.
Now I know that, in reality, there is no “gender specific” reaction to this situation, no pre-required, stereotypical “knight in shining armor.” There are plenty of men out there, cis and transgender, who would have reacted (or should I say, not reacted) the same way that I did, and there are plenty of women, cis and trans, who would have even beaten Mr. Moustache to the scene. In other words, I know that this scenario is not a measure of my manhood. And yet…
Did I mention that it’s been dogging me?
So I think about it, especially when I’m strolling through the Minneapolis or Cincinnati or whatever airport, wondering whether a similar situation will ever present itself some day, whether I’ll get the chance to show my true mettle.
The question is, what will that mettle be? I’d like to say with certainty that I know, but it seems that I have some doubts.