Generosity Of Spirit

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A dramatic event in downtown San Francisco renewed Richard Swerdlow’s faith in human nature. Here’s his Perspective.

It was rush hour on Market Street in San Francisco's Financial District  usual afternoon throngs rushing, clutching briefcases hurrying to BART. As I waited to cross the street a motorcycle rider came roaring through the intersection and suddenly lost his balance. The bike tipped over and went down skidding along the street while the rider hurtled across the asphalt, coming to a stop motionless in the middle of the street.

There was a stunned silence. Then everyone sprung into action. Cell phones whipped out calls to 911. Men in business suits rushed into the street holding arms out to block traffic. Cars and buses screeched to a stop as a woman ran into the street bending over the bleeding rider.

"I'm a nurse," she shouted.

Another woman hurried to join her. I overheard her say she was a doctor. A guy in a Starbucks apron sprinted over with bottles of water and towels.


I sit with the crowd watching on the sidewalk. People pulled shirts off and handed them over for improvised bandages. An ambulance arrived and the man lay in his stretcher, dazed but talking to paramedics.

"He's gonna be okay," announced the lady doctor. "Just bumped and bruised."

A cheer went up and the poor guy weakly waved, royal family style. The ambulance tore off and the crowd dispersed, rushing on their way, and just like that it was a regular afternoon again. I hurried on my way too but with a lightness in my step. That accident was awful but it left me with a renewed faith in humanity.

Big cities can be cold, uncaring places. But watching so many drop everything to help reminded me of something: the generosity of spirit in human beings. I've noticed this lately from those who open wallets and homes to help victims of floods and fires, to the border patrol agent in Texas photographed carrying a frail, elderly man's pitiful belongings for him, to the New York City cop who bought new shoes for a homeless man for using in the snow.

There is a negative feel in the air these days and it seems our collective hearts have all hardened. But watching that motorcycle go down has unexpectedly raised my spirits up. I'm glad that motorcycle rider is okay, and I'm glad for the reminder that our humanity is still okay, too.

With a perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.