When One Person’s Courage Leads to an Intervention
Last Sunday, as I walked my pup to the store for treats, something happened that brought me back to the simple power- and necessity- of kindness in our world.
Zoe, my puppy, and I had nearly reached our destination, with just one street to cross and a left turn ahead of us. We were stopped, as I waited for her to sit on my command. She was distracted. I was a bit impatient.
To my side, I noticed a woman with an unwieldy walk stumble by. I looked up. It took a moment for what I saw to register: she wore only a yellow shirt and shoes, and the rest of her pale, aging body was left flapping and exposed.
She stumbled, and leaned over, drool hanging from her mouth. I watched, felt a ping of pain in my gut and said to myself “Oh, hunny.” She didn’t hear me.
I looked around to see if anyone else was there. I didn’t have my phone with me, so I couldn’t call for help.
To my left, a tiny eco-efficient car was pulled to the curb, with two women inside. They looked at me, noticed my expression, and the driver- with a troubled look on her face- raised her hand to the side of her head, making a sign for phone.
I shook my head and mouthed: “I don’t have my phone.”
I walked over, and the driver explained that she had just called 911 for help. I was relieved. We all sat there, watching as the woman walked up the hill away from us with nerve-wracking unsteadiness. We looked at one other.
The driver said, “I guess I’ll follow her in the car until the ambulance comes?” She seemed unsure. And at that moment the wandering woman fell to the ground, landing on a stone step.
I read concern on the driver’s face. “Do you want me to stay with you till they come? I’ll stay with you,” I said. I ran up to meet the woman, and they followed in the car.
When we approached, the woman was still on the ground, and had gotten her body into a seated position. Her arm was bloody from the fall. She wasn’t lucid. She didn’t speak. She looked as if she had very little to ground her in reality, her eyes glossy and lost.
The two women I’d met stood to the side with worried, furrowed brows. I crouched down next to the fallen woman, and noticed that the front of her shirt was soaked from drooling.
She looked up at me and started to get up- I put my hand on her back and said “No- no, stay where you are. Wait for people to come help you. They’re coming.”
By that time we could see the ambulance with its flashing lights approaching.
With my hand still on her back, she looked up at me, and in that moment I felt her helplessness. Her eyes locked with mine, and I welled up, suddenly feeling her pain. I let out another “Oh hunny” and she started to cry.
That moment of compassion brought out a tiny flash of lucidity in her. She seemed to connect. There was a real person in there. I wondered what had gone wrong to bring her here.
The ambulance stopped in front of us, and two EMTs quickly approached with a sheet to cover her, and helped her over to the vehicle. They asked if we knew her. We all shook our heads.
Meeting our helplessness with calm competence, the EMTs took over, gathered the woman inside the ambulance, and shut the door.
The two women standing by started back to their car. I walked with them, unwrapped my pup’s leash from their side mirror, said goodbye and headed back toward the pet store with Zoe.
It was hard to wrap my mind around all that had happened in those few minutes- meeting the harsh reality of human suffering, the sudden connection I’d felt to this woman with lost eyes, and the unspoken yet deep concern I’d sensed from to the two women beside me.
What I know is that in the face of suffering, we often meet our own feelings of helplessness. We may choose to run, instead of choosing to help.
Protecting ourselves is instinct. I almost walked away from the opportunity to help. And the two women in the car almost stayed inside, only to watch the woman from a safe distance. It could have been easy to justify; help was on the way.
But something about being together made us all strong enough to stay and be with her.
In situations like this, all it takes is one person deciding that this person matters to start others on a course of action. We all feel it. It just takes one person to call it out.
In this case it wasn’t me, but the woman who called 911 and got my attention by making hand motions through a car window. She called it out. And she may not realize it, but the instant she did, she created a team.
That’s leadership. Being the first to call it out. It’s simple and it doesn’t take training. But it does take heart, and it requires courage.
Here’s what I want you to do: the next time you’re in a situation where there’s tension and insecurity, where it would make a difference to “call it out” that someone matters, act on it. Even if you don’t know how you will help, take the first step. See what happens.
And share your perspective with me by replying to this email. I know you’ve experienced situations like this one. What did you do? What can we learn from your experience?
And one last thing: thank you for reading today. I’m aware, as I write, of how much I express in good faith that it will make some positive impact, and I’m grateful that you, reader, are out there.