Outrage, Shivering Child and The Boss


By Rai Rojas

Editor’s note. This appeared on Rai’s blog.

shiveringboyreThere are 62 steps from the back door to the coffee shop around the corner. It was so cold this morning that it felt as if my still-moist hair froze in the time it took to walk those aforementioned 62 steps. The city has been unceremoniously shutdown, there are very few people on the street, the buses aren’t running and it’s snowing out.

Nothing in my mostly Cuban DNA prepares me for this.

I should take advantage of the quiet and write about the outrage in Venezuela, the tyrant in the Crimea, or that dreadful woman running for Governor of Texas – but there’s no motivation for outrage today. So I’m going to tell you a quick story instead– it’s personal, but it’s my blog and I can do that. 🙂

A couple of weeks ago a Norwegian charity that works to provide warm clothing to displaced Syrian children posted a video on YouTube showing a boy without a coat shivering at a bus bench on a bitter cold day in Oslo. It was an experiment to see how people would react to the trembling child, but it was produced to also bring awareness to the great work SOS Children’s Villages International does all year long. The video has gone viral and presently has been viewed over 13 million times.

The video is poignant, heart-warming and hopeful because everyone who encounters this child offers him an article of clothing – sometimes immediately, sometimes after a few minutes pause. But it is an experiment after all – a well choreographed one to be sure with camera people and sound-men all around. You know the child is acting (he wore warm thermal undergarments) and if at any moment he truly had become distressed, a swarm people would rush in to help.

When I saw the video two weeks ago I knew I would write this down because y’all should know.

About 20 years ago (give or take) a small group of us was walking back to the office from Washington, DC’s once thriving and very authentic Chinatown in the middle of a harsh, cold, snowy and icy DC day. The four of us (including the boss) had just had lunch at Hunan’s (oh how I miss Hunan’s) and we were navigating the slick sidewalks along 7th Street. Just as we crossed the street in front of the old Chinese apothecary we noticed that someone might have slipped on the sidewalk at the end of the block.

Chinatown – Washington, DC before they knocked down the apothecary and noodle shops to make way for The Creperie & Walgreens.

By the time we arrived at the corner, there was a couple standing over what was obviously a homeless woman who had slipped on the ice that had formed on the wheelchair access ramp. The man was saying he’d gotten to the pay-phone (yeah I know) and called 911. He told the lady who was almost motionless and on her side that an ambulance was on its way. And then it happened.

Without a second of pause my boss took off his top coat and draped it on the woman to cover her, he then took of his suit jacket and folded it up to put under her head so that her face wasn’t on the sidewalk. This man was standing in the middle of Chinatown in nothing but his shirt with the temperature hovering in the teens.

And I just stood there and watched as he knelt to comfort her. Mercifully within a few minutes the ambulance arrived and paramedics began to treat her. My boss didn’t leave or put his clothes back on until she was safely in the back of the wagon.

It was an extraordinary thing to see. There were no cameras, no sound-men, no makeup people, nor someone standing by to throw a blanket on him.

I think of that day so very often and just quite recently during another bitter cold afternoon I reminded him of what he did in old Chinatown so many years ago. He only had a vague recollection and I’m glad there were two other people there with whom I still work to remind him of what he did.

Blog posts are curious things – I’ve poured my outrage out on these pages a time or two and sometimes hundreds of people an hour will come and read – sometimes a blog post only gets 50 or 60 hits total. Sometimes a post gets picked up and thousands of people will read it and sometimes, well, not so much.

But there’s no outrage today and this post fits no category so I don’t know how folks will read or see it. In the time it took to write this, the Norwegian video has been viewed an additional 4,803 times and that’s a really good thing – I wish that even a fraction of those people would read about my boss.

Check back tomorrow though – I was on NPR recently and it was pretty outrageous.