The other day, I had a particular encounter that surprised me — not because of how I responded, but because of how everybody else responded. I was walking down the alley behind my house, heading to the bus stop, when I thought I heard somebody yelling. As I turned the corner out of the alley and onto the sidewalk, I saw an elderly woman holding her neck, slumped over in a bus shelter. She appeared to be street-involved, and was yelling: “Help me! Help me! I'm having a medical emergency!”
However, the thing that really surprised me, was that I observed people walking by her, completely ignoring her — and the other people waiting for the bus were all backing up, and moving away from her. There must have been about 6-8 people within earshot of her, and all of them were keeping the hell away from her.
I'd like to say that I responded to the situation by doing what anybody else would do — i.e. I ran over to the woman, found out what was wrong, called an ambulance, and waited with her until help arrived — but it turns out that nobody else responded in this way.
Actually, that's not entirely true. Shortly after I started talking to the woman, a homeless man came over to help as well. So, I guess you could say that I responded to the situation like any other homeless person would.
Thinking about this scenario, made me remember another event that happened several years ago, when I was living in downtown Toronto. It was the middle of winter, night was falling, and I came across an homeless man who was semi-conscious, lying in a puddle of slush. I didn't have a cell phone, but I knew the number for the Street Help Line, so if I could get ahold of them, I knew that they would come and look after this man. The problem was, I didn't have a quarter to call the Street Help Line from the payphone across the street. No big deal, I thought. There was a crowd of people a few feet away waiting for the street car. I turned and said to them, “Excuse me, there is a man lying here who needs help. Can somebody give me a quarter so I can call the Street Help Line?” To my amazement, every single person in that crowd ignored me (just like they were ignoring the man lying in the slush). This made me angry, and instead of asking nicely, I became aggressive and, in no uncertain terms, I told the people what I thought of them. That worked much better, somebody gave me a quarter, and everything worked out.
Now, I understand that middle-class people are scared of pretty much everything and everybody, but I cannot understand how one can allow such irrational fears to override any loving or helpful actions. I mean, in both of these situations, nobody had even taken out a cell phone and called 911. Bloody hell. Besides, it's not like I never get scared. I do get scared. It's just that I try not to let my fear overpower my identity in Christ.