Holding the Elevator

Catherine Smyka - Chicago, Illinois
Entered on August 29, 2011
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I walked home recently laden with a shoulder bag, a FedEx carton, and a lunchbox, and struggled with my keys. On the street, a gentleman in an unmistakable brown hat passed me about half a block from my apartment building. I paid no attention until I stumbled down the steps in my front lobby and saw the same man – holding the elevator. He could have been back in his studio by now. But instead, here he was, pressing the “Door Open” button for me. I grinned, embarrassed, and stepped inside.

“What floor?” he asked, his hand hovering over the numbers.

I believe in holding the elevator.

In line at the grocery store, I usually send at least one text message. On the walk to work, my fingers typically pull up my morning emails on my phone. In an elevator, though, I choose to look up, to hold that “Door Open” button. That simple action can change someone’s entire day. It changes my day all the time. When I see someone turn and notice that another person is rushing towards a waiting elevator, and that person throws an arm to block the closing door, it reminds me that people are still aware of the strangers around them. I am daily bombarded with computers and smartphones and MMS and Gmail and Facebook, but honestly? Holding the elevator is the easiest way I can think of to stay connected to other people. It is the modern-day version of offering a cup of sugar to my neighbor. It is my way of saying, “I don’t know you. But let me lend you a hand.”

Things move fast. Often I get caught up in a flurry of work emails and bill payments; when I hold that “Door Open” button, I take a breath. I remember to breathe. I embrace the moment it takes to wait, to slow down. It brings me peace and simultaneously tells a stranger that they are worth a courteous pause.

My career isn’t going to let up – it will only get increasingly more intense. I will spend longer hours in front of laptops, and days at a time alone and hard at work on a 100-page project. I will ignore phone calls and pay no attention to crosswalk signs or solicitors on the sidewalk. But I will always hold the elevator.