I had an odd episode yesterday.
I went to the Bureau of Elections to file my Political Committee registration (I finally formed one of my own).
You have to go through a metal detector when you first enter the building. There was a young man ahead of me. He was in his early twenties, and carrying a plastic bag which they had to X-Ray first. I waited patiently until he was done, then walked through the detector.
I caught up to him at the elevators. He seemed distracted; he didn’t notice when the elevator arrived.
“Elevator’s here,” I said, pointing.
He followed me on, and the door closed.
My head was still buzzing with plans for the upcoming election when he looked over at me and said: “I’m reporting for prison. I’m going away for six months to a year.”
“That’s a hell of a way to start your day,” I said stupidly.
He nodded and we got off the elevator. He turned right, I turned left.
After a few steps I turned around and called to him.
He didn’t look like a criminal in his jeans and white football jersey. He looked like anybody’s kid. He also looked lost, adrift. Scared to death. I wanted to say something.
All that came out was: “Good luck. I mean that.”
He nodded. What else was he supposed to do in response to my second supremely stupid utterance in less than a minute?
On my drive to work, all I could think of was what I should have said. Any of a dozen different things, all centered around taking the opportunity ahead to get his life on-track.
And then it struck me: Nothing I could have said would have sounded any less stupid than what I’d already said. He was scared to death. He reported to prison alone, no friends or family. I don’t know his story. I never will. But it struck me how at certain points in our lives we are utterly and completely alone with whatever trial or terror lays ahead of us. We go into the fire. Sometimes we come out. Sometimes we don’t.
Maybe I said the right thing after all.
Good luck, kid. Take it one step at a time…