Powerful learning moments are often unexpected. It was certainly the last thing I expected as I sought shelter under the portico at the Denver Public Library from a sudden, intense early summer rainy deluge.
It was the final evening gala of the Harvard Women in Power meeting. This special, once-a-year gathering brings together powerful businesswomen from across the U.S., and as far away as Japan, Nigeria, and Kosovo. Our group of three dozen powerful businesswomen had spent the past few days touring Denver, meeting with local women powerbrokers, and considering how to move more women into positions of power.
As one of the host-city members, my job that evening was to greet each of the women as they arrived in cabs, and direct them across the broad courtyard to the restaurant. The downpour began as the cab bearing the last two women arrived. As long-standing members of the group, Yvonne and Georgia were two of our most honored guests. And there I stood, huddled under the nearby awning without an umbrella.
While I hoped in vain that one of the passing businessmen with umbrellas would stop to help, my panic increased as I watched two men who appeared to be homeless come toward me. Now what, I worried.
“You women look too nice to get wet in all this rain,” one of the men said. “We don’t want you to ruin your outfits.” With that, they held up their tarp over our heads to escort us into the restaurant. One of the guys even called out a good-natured cadence since we were having a little trouble walking all crowded together.
By this time some of our members saw what was happening and came running out of the restaurant, thinking we were being mugged. Soon enough, though, they understood what was really happening. These two guys were being incredible gentlemen, protecting us even as they got soaked.
As we headed into the warm, welcoming restaurant, and they turned back into the rain, we thanked them and offered them a little money, though that clearly wasn’t what they were after. They were really just doing a good dead.
The whole episode only took a few brief moments, but it is etched in my mind. It made all of us stop and consider the biases we didn’t even realize we had. Of course we need to be cautious of those around us, but clearly there are good people in bad circumstances.
Recounted by Margret Medellin