In the summer of 1975, when I was but a teen, my friend Steve and I were on our way to a YES concert in Lincoln, NE. We came upon a motorcycle accident on O Street. The bike was lying in the right-hand driver’s lane, and the driver, a young man in his early 20’s maybe, was lying half in the street and half up the curb. I muscled my way into the crowd, nosy thing that I am and aspiring Florence Nightengale (I was still planning on a nursing career at that point). The kid was unconscious, lying on his back, and his shoulder-length dark hair was matted against the sidewalk in a small pool of blood. He gurgled and rasped, and I could see blood in his mouth rising up and going back in with every breath. I yelled for someone to call the ambulance (pre-911/cell phone days), but no one moved. I yelled again, and finally, someone went in the O Street Motel to call.
Meanwhile, a crowd of 20-30 people had gathered but kept a very cautious distance from the kid. No one would touch him. So (and here’s the part that makes people wince), I did two things: (1) I took off my poncho, balled it up, and put it gently under his feet; somewhere in my Dr. Kildare/General Hospital viewing I had heard about elevating feet to prevent shock. And (2) I gently, slowly, tilted his head slightly to the side so the blood would run out, not back in, and wiped out his mouth out with my sweater.
This is the clearest memory of the incident for me: A man leaned over my shoulder as I knelt beside the kid, and he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Give it up. The guy’s dead, man.” My teen blood boiled. I gave Creepy Guy a pointy elbow-jab, held the kid’s limp hand, got down in his face, and semi-shouted one long run-on sentence until the ambulance showed up: “You’re not dead I’m right here with you I’ll stay here until the ambulance comes stay with me you’ll be okay help is on its way that’s my hand you’re feeling don’t let go…” The ambulance came, I left my poncho behind, and Steve and I went on to the concert.
I never found out if the kid lived or died. I never knew his name. I didn’t wait around to give my contact info to the ambulance guys. I didn’t try checking the papers, calling the hospitals, or digging for police reports until a few years ago, and by then it was too late; any records going back that far are long gone.
Part of me knows that I didn’t follow up because I knew even then, while I was gingerly moving that kid, that I could have been hastening him to his death. Still, I believed then, and I believe today, that it’s ALWAYS better to do something, to care enough to act—even if that action is bungling, inept, inadequate, wrong—than to do NOTHING. I tried; I hooked up my will and human compassion to that unconscious kid like a mountaineer’s rope, and I held on, dammit.
I tell this story now because I had a sudden insight into Creepy Guy’s outburst when the news of the Haiti quake broke: Bystanders feel powerless in the face of disaster. We don’t know what to do, we can’t imagine anything powerful enough to fix the damage, so we do nothing. We’re forced to confront our own weak puniness in the face of problems that seem overwhelming. So I privately thanked Creepy Guy for teaching me this lesson, and I did something. I gave a few bucks to Helping Hands for Haiti. I gave a bit to Doctors Without Borders. I gave some to the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, left without water & power in this brutal cold after a recent ice storm.
I don't think I’m fixing anything, and I'll bet there are a bazillion other overwhelming problems I haven’t even thought about. But I'm shaking up and embracing my inner Good Samaritan. I’m holding on to my belief that the smallest acts of kindness work together to keep in motion an amazing tidalwave of human energy and compassion. And I'm doing what I can because I know only this for sure: It’s better to do something—anything—than to do nothing.
Emilie's minion on the moveThis begins another summer of wandering and adventuring! I intend to post once or twice a week, except for the month of July wh...
2 years ago