One of the gifts both of my parents gave me was a deeply embedded belief that when you see someone who needs help, you help. I mean “jump in, right then, respond quickly and help in whatever way you can immediately help”, kind of support.
For the most part, it’s worked out well. After 50 some years of following this impulse, I’ve broken up fights in bars (geez, I sound like a badass!), talked a guy into putting a gun away on the subway, taken a stranger home for a much needed shower, given my coat to the cold, almost naked lady outside the department store and bought a family in Key West their dinner after watching them freak out for 15 minutes at the loss of their credit card.
I’m not trying to impress you. Almost everyone I know has done these kinds of things and even more important, help others in a million small ways on a daily basis. We don’t think about it. We let ourselves be “moved” in the moment, don’t consider the “risk” factor and act with compassion. It’s the kind of person I want to be and who I want to hang around with.
Saturday night, all that got put into question.
As we took a back way home from dinner late Saturday night, the windows rolled down and conversation flowing, we noticed a woman, man and young boy walking the dark street. Just as we passed I heard her yell “Don’t hit me!” I swung my head around and shouted to Brian “STOP! Get out and see if she’s OK!”
And he did.
It was dark on that back road with just a tiny bit of light from a nearby apartment. We were right next to them and when I looked out the back, I saw the man’s face framed in the rolled down window - sweaty, angry as my husband said something like “Is everything Ok here?” In that split second I watched the man move aggressively toward him, yelling “Get the F--K into your car NOW and get out of here!”
What I couldn’t see from the front seat was the knife in his hand that he raised to the man I love.
We sped around the corner, pulled over and called 911. As we stayed on the phone in the dark, my husband deeply shaken, I started feeling something I couldn’t yet put into words. I thought it was simply fear, but my heart was not racing. When we looped back around and saw the police had arrived, we took off. After landing at home, I texted my son to tell him what had happened.
His first concern was whether Brian was Ok. “Jesus! But’s he’s Ok?” “Sure you’re Ok?” “Are you guys safe now?” “Love you.”
“You can’t assume a guy who’s beating his wife is going to listen to you and Brian!”
And then the emotions that I couldn’t get a handle on in the car, washed over me. A sick feeling, all in a mixed up bag - that people are losing their S—T and some risks aren’t worth taking and I could have gotten my husband killed and what will happen to people in scary situations if we decide we can’t “jump in?”
My son called a few minutes later from a loud wedding reception, but he wanted to connect and tell me that he also, had just witnessed an ugly fight over a woman on his street the night before. The thing is, after me teaching him for 19 years to “jump in no matter what”, at 28 he had learned himself to move further away that evening, keep his eye on what was happening and call 911.
I’m writing this because as sad as it feels to me, I think we all need to consider what our “first” action step is when someone clearly needs help. I don’t believe “jump in!” is my best decision anymore. And that said, I honestly can’t tell you that I wouldn’t automatically do it again if someone was being hurt.
It’s confusing. I want someone to be brave enough to help me if I ever am in a scary situation. The individuals we call “hero’s”, engaging in everyday acts of kindness from saving a person drowning to protecting a child from an abusive, screaming parent all say something to the effect of “I didn’t think about it. I just knew they needed help.”
And thank goodness, it all went well.
Maybe the opportunity for me and maybe for you, is to spend some time thinking about how we could best “help” in some specific situations that might arise as we go about our lives and having a bit of a plan to fall back on. I like the video that circulated recently about how to support a person being bullied by engaging and befriending “them” and not fighting the bully. I think I’m going to put into action my son’s “step back further, keep an eye on what’s happening and call 911 immediately” approach.
I want to be brave enough to take a stand for what is right, what is needed and to help people who are scared or in a bad situation. I also want those I love, actually everyone, to be safe and live to tell the story.