If Nema Semnani hadn’t been in Maryland for a work trip, and if a friend hadn’t canceled their dinner plan, he never would have found himself getting a haircut at a shopping center in Owings Mills outside of Baltimore on a rainy Friday evening in September.
And when he left the barber shop, Semnani would never have spotted the elderly man gingerly making his way up a grassy incline in the parking lot. In one hand, the man held out a pizza box, as if to help balance himself. Semnani picked up his pace. His plan, he said, “was just to get there and help him make those final steps.” Too late.
Before Semnani could reach him, the man fell, face first. Semnani ran to him, already dialing 911. As they waited for an ambulance, Semnani tried to make sure the man didn’t lose consciousness. After paramedics arrived, Semnani looked for a way to contact the man’s family. He found an old-school flip phone and looked up its most recently placed calls. After a few tries, Semnani finally reached the man’s son, listed on the phone under “Rob.”
About 60 miles away, Robert Udoff was having dinner with his wife at a restaurant on Kent Island when his phone flashed: “Dad.” The voice on the other end was not his dad’s. “I have found your father laying in a parking lot,” Semnani told the son. “He’s in pretty rough shape.” Udoff and his wife, Lisa, rushed to pay the bill, then sped toward Owings Mills. Robert didn’t think to ask the caller’s name. Semnani jumped into his own car. Why did he follow the ambulance to the hospital? He hadn’t discussed it with anyone. He just did.
He thought about the man becoming “more coherent and there’s no one there for him,” Semnani said. “I didn’t want him to be lonely. That’s scary.” Semnani arrived at the hospital, knowing the man’s family wouldn’t be there for some time. Semnani waited. About two hours later, Robert and Lisa arrived.
Robert remembers “seeing this man walking up towards me. I didn’t know why.” Semnani introduced himself as the man who had found their father. They thanked him profusely. As Semnani left the waiting room, Lisa took her husband’s hand. “We just met Dad’s guardian angel,” she told him.
“Everybody says ‘Yeah, I would help,’ but a lot of people don’t,” Robert said. In the months since, his father has recovered from a concussion and broken ribs. The Udoffs friended Semnani on Facebook. They consider him a member of the family now. “I don’t consider myself religious,” Robert said, “but I certainly believe there’s something. . . . I certainly don’t know what. But there’s a reason why that man was there.”
Semnani still thinks about “the serendipity that put me in that place.” He suddenly had time to get a haircut. He chose that barber shop at random. The incident brought back a strand of memory of Semnani’s mother, who died of cancer several years ago. The old man walking shakily in the parking lot summoned an image of Semnani supporting his own mother’s wobbly gait during her last months. “What I did is something anyone would do,” he said. “If it was me, I wouldn’t want that person to be alone.”