After squinting at the ancient television in my parents' bedroom and realizing I couldn't determine either the race or gender of anybody on the screen, I took my father out to buy a new one last weekend (that's us in the photo). He was following me to take a closer look at an LCD flat-screen model when I heard a shout and a crash.
Turning, I caught sight of something I'd hoped never to see in my life: my almost-eighty-year-old father face down on the floor. Thankfully, it wasn't a heart attack or stroke; he'd tripped over an empty stand jutting out into the passageway, and broken the impact of his own fall with an arm. But he was bleeding, he was sore, and he was scared.
I sat on the floor, helped him turn over, and cradled his head in my lap. People were gathering, and my self-reliant father wanted to stand up. He's a big man, though, and I couldn't get him to his feet on my own.
That's when I heard a man in the store calling to his son: "Joe! Come and help!"
Immediately, the teenager turned away from the XBox he was admiring and raced to obey. Together, the three of us hoisted my father up. As the boy's father ran for a cup of water and I pulled over a chair, I heard the boy murmuring to my father: "It's okay, lean on me, I've got you, I'm right here."
Later, once my father was safely home, I found myself giving thanks for the oft-maligned "9/11/Tsumani/Katrina" generation. Growing up in the shadow of disasters can generate the kind of compassion I saw last weekend, when a teenager had the presence of mind not just to give physical help but to provide the encouragement an older man desperately needed.