It was a chilly Wednesday morning in February and I was walking up from the Beacon Street Garage as I have done for the past 20 years. It was after 8:30 a.m. and there were a bunch of students walking to their 9 a.m. classes. Most people had hats, masks, and kept their heads down, partly to keep warm and partly because we can’t recognize anyone with all the gear and masks anyway. I saw a BC truck parked by the stairs below Merkert Hall and two guys emptying the trash bins. I am usually guilty of keeping my head down as I survive the walk through a temperature in the teens with my heavy bag, which has everything I would need in case my COVID-19 test came back positive. But for some reason, this time I looked up and saw a familiar face that I had not seen in a very long time: Paul Smith from the Grounds Maintenance Department.
I stopped to say hello and we both just checked in with each other. It was nice to see a familiar face and say hello to someone. But instead of just a surface-level conversation about the weather or the pandemic, something told me to share something more. We both started talking about the craziness of the past year and I told him that I lost my dad to COVID-19.
He came a little closer and said, “I am so sorry, when?” I told him my dad passed in December, and Paul then shared with me that he just recently returned to work after taking six weeks off because his wife just had her seventh surgery in seven years. We stepped in even a little closer. We shared about our families and the tough times we went through. He saw a tear in my eye falling into my mask and gave me a hug. It was beautiful. I didn’t even hug my siblings at my dad’s funeral out of fear of the virus. But in that moment with Paul, it was just perfect and human.
In that moment there was no pandemic (although he did tell me he had tested negative the day prior). In that moment, there was no temperature too low, no place to rush off to, and time stood still as two humans shared a moment of humanity—a rare occurrence within the past 11 months. I have known this man for over 20 years, but before that day I only said hello and had fun banter. That day, he was there for me and opened up about his family. I left with more tears and even more gratitude for picking my head up, being vulnerable, and being human. We all need to pick our heads up more and try to be there for others despite the masks, stresses of life, and cold temperatures. Thanks for teaching me that, Paul.
Featured image by Meegan Minahan / Heights Editor