The lady with the load: A regretful memory

“But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” -Luke 10:29

One day as I as I neared the bottom of a hill on my walk home, a lady on the street pulling a large, loaded cart tried to ask me a question. She was a classic, older, Korean woman, bent over, worn out, wrinkled.

When she spoke, she spoke in Korean. I didn’t understand what she said. I didn’t even realize she was addressing me at first.

Earlier that day, I had finally learned how to say, “I don’t speak Korean,” in Korean. I learned the phrase in response to a man who had tried, as far as I know, to ask me directions the night or so before. I knew the phrase would come in handy.

So when the lady with the load asked again – and this second time I knew she was speaking to me – I broke out the little Korean I’d learned.

She looked confused at first, probably because I spoke with a thick accent, I thought. I repeated myself.

Then I smiled, nodded as if to apologize, and walked on.

As I entered the tunnel that signaled the last few paces to my place, it finally hit me what the lady was asking. She was pulling a huge, loaded cart. She had stopped in the street at the bottom of the hill. She looked tired.

She wanted me to help her pull the cart up the hill.

I turned around. I could still see her down the street. I could see she hadn’t moved any further than when I’d first seen her.

I wanted to help, but another part of me felt awkward. I wanted to help, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back, take the cart handle off her shoulder, and drag the load up the hill for her.

She needed my help. She wanted it. She even tried asking for it. But at that moment, entering the tunnel on my way home from work, I felt like I had better things to do.

I turned again and walked on. And that’s one of the few things I regret about what I’ve done in Korea.

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