Today, I went for a run. (A rare occurrence, but happily becoming less rare). I was having a frustrating day—the kind of day where everything seemed to compound upon itself. You know: ran out of milk for coffee; a client missed a session; iPhone and laptop calendar stopped syncing; and got told by my optometrist that my eyelid oil glands were overactive (I mean, really?). Absurd stuff to sweat, in hindsight, but frustrating nonetheless.
So I thought a run would do me some good (if nothing else, I could pay forward calories for the dark chocolate that I thought might end up being my solace).
Ten minutes in, I saw a man fall from the walker he was holding.
He was probably 300 lbs, easily 65 years old and half a block away. I sprinted up to help him. He was clearly in shock, had a very pronounced speech impediment and was crying.
Speaking in soothing tones helped him to calm down as I held his hand to assess any injury that he may have sustained. Once I confirmed that he was “mostly” fine, I helped him back into his walker. I do not wish to belabour the point, but this was no easy feat.
Using the walker as a fulcrum, nearby stairs for support (ones that his head narrowly escaped) and every ounce of strength he and I both had, we got him back up.
He awkwardly tried to hug me in gratitude and once I was satisfied that he was okay, I ran off.
I cried about the indignity of aging. I cried for the discomfort I felt in receiving the clumsy hug. I cried that I didn’t stay with this human being longer.
But mostly I cried because no one else stopped. To help him. Or to help me help him.
No no no. It’s not that the incident went unnoticed. Drivers slowed to gawk and pedestrians stepped around us. Their eyes met my pleading ones for just a second before they were averted.
I cried because my heart broke as I grappled with further evidence of what seems to be a forgone conclusion: we are an apathetic society.
And then I realized that I have been a party to this apathy all along. I have witnessed it, and yet been apathetic towards the apathy itself in that kind of “*shrug*, what are ya gonna do about it?” kind of way.
My dear grandmother Mildred had many enduring sayings (ask me some time about her “glorious creations”) but the one that was most often repeated was:
“The masses are asses.”
Yes, Grandma, that may well be true. And yet…
I continue to believe that beneath the crust of their competing priorities, deadlines and pressures, people are inherently good. Life has made them ass-like. And they’ve allowed that to happen. By choice.
I believe that what I did to help that man represented the mere BASELINE of common decency. I could have done so much more. Called an ambulance in case of internal injury (this will keep me awake). Stayed to hold his hand until I was sure he was steady. Found out his name and told him mine. But I didn’t.
I ran off. Minimum effort expended.
I know I am just one of masses some of the time: an ass. Self-involved and self-absorbed.
But mostly not.
So I’m wondering this. What if those of us who DON’T identify ourselves as mostly ass-like stepped up our game and went for kindness, compassion and empathy way above the baseline?
Karmically wiping out some below-the-baseline ass-ness around us? Zero-sum kindness.
So, who’s with me?