The museum was dark and empty. I had stumbled upon it that day – no one had told me of its existence and no one else showed up while I lingered in its corridors and stared at its exhibits.
When I was done reading the history and examining the artifacts, I went to the gift shop and began to browse. Scouring the racks, I found a book that I vowed to begin reading on my flight home.
That’s when I saw a little black girl wandering around the store. She was adorable, with curls tightly wound to her head in pink barrettes, a pacifier stuck in her mouth, and a stuffed giraffe in one hand. I guessed she was a year and a half, two years old, tops. A man I assumed to be her father was talking to the lady behind the counter as his wayward daughter scampered off into the aisles to ogle at pretty colors and fun shapes.
Two large, hefty, spinning retail racks stood like metal monoliths in the middle of the store. They were each at least five feet tall, and when I rotated one to move from an array of keychains to a metal drawer of pencils, shot glasses and small personalized license plates, I could feel its heft. It had to weigh several hundred pounds, and I felt like the old lady who needs to pull someone from the audience to spin the wheel on “The Price is Right.”
The girl was standing in front of the other one as I drew close to take a look at what it might be featuring. A full second hadn’t gone by before the following chain of events occurred, although it all happened so fast that I didn’t have time to process specifics:
- The little girl became enamored with an item on the rack that was connected to a string.
- She grabbed the item and pulled it to get it off the rack, but the loop of the string became caught on one of the protruding steel tongs of the rack.
- She couldn’t get the item off the rack, so she pulled as hard as she could on it.
- Even though she probably didn’t weigh more than thirty pounds, the pulley effect that she had generated tipped the rack toward her.
- The rack began to fall, and the girl didn’t know what was happening, so she didn’t try to move out of the way.
When I realized what was happening, all I could do was try to stop it. I lunged at the rack to keep it from falling on her and most likely crushing her. I succeeded. With a considerable, surprising amount of force needed to stop its momentum, I was able to get my shoulder under it and then wrestle it back on its moorings.
I looked at the girl, hoping for a moment that she would understand what I had done. She turned and walked away. I realized that she had no idea what had just transpired and never would. I looked around the rest of the store. The man was still talking to the lady behind the counter with his back to me. The girl was almost back to him. I was alone by the still-wobbling rack.
Five words formed clearly in my mind. I spoke them aloud.
“I just saved her life,” I said.
I was quiet because I knew that nobody knew of what I had just done, which meant that I would never be honored, respected or even noticed for it.
Years later, I realized how fitting it was that this happened at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
It’s a place where brilliant men and women whose lives are forever defined by wondrous accomplishments against great odds are celebrated.
And, once you step back outside, forgotten.
For more from Tom …
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