Whole Life Magazine

December 2013/January 2014

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backwords COMING TO THE RESCUE Is There a Right or Wrong Time to Be My Brother's Keeper? I was sitting at my computer when I heard what sounded like a boy crying out in pain. For a moment I thought it might be a squeal of joy, but as I rose from my chair to look out the window, I saw a child strewn on the ground, apparently having fallen off his Razor. He was on a narrow sidewalk right next to a busy street and several yards behind his family, who had moved on without him. I peered out my open window and watched as he raised up his arms and pleaded for his parents to pick him up and carry him. "I can't walk," he cried, over and over. The father (presumably) came charging back to yell at his son. He lifted his arm and at first I thought he was going to hit the boy. But he didn't. He simply yelled at him to get off the ground. (Of course I couldn't know for sure if it really was the boy's father. We've all heard enough horror stories that there's always a flicker of a doubt.) As the man's temper rose, he paced back and forth. The boy sat crosslegged on the concrete, his head buried in his hands. It seemed this might be a longrunning battle between the two of them. "I can't walk!" "Get up!" The father barked several loud orders at the sobbing child who, by this time, had assumed a crumpled-lump posture and was clutching his knee in pain. Is his knee broken? I thought. Should I do something? That's always the question, isn't it? At what point do I take action and actually become my brother or sister's keeper? I see things every day that challenge me with this question. Years ago I was in San Francisco with my father and as we waited for the BART train, we saw a woman sitting on a bench, weeping. She was wearing an oversized thermal shirt that she used to wipe her sodden face every few minutes. I imagined she'd just heard some terrible news—her best friend had died, she found out she has cancer, her boyfriend just broke up with her. She cried with such bleary unawareness of those around her that I thought she might be mentally ill. My father noticed my preoccupation with this woman 42 By Amy Shouse and tried to comfort me, telling me not to assume what might be going on with her. "You never know what's happening on someone else's journey," he said. Over the years since, I've inserted myself in other situations with strangers, even though some of the gestures weren't welcome. I've made direct eye contact with a parent who was pulling a child violently by the arm in a grocery store. I've given a quiet "It's okay," to a little girl who was being publicly berated and shamed by her dad in the middle of the outdoor mall. I've come to the rescue of a woman who had just been attacked in front of an ATM. A small part of me thinks, who am I to stick my nose into other people's business? But the larger part of me is driven to offer kindness or possibly protection whenever I can. In the end, I think it all comes down to the severity of the situation. Is the person or child in serious danger? If yes, I vow to say something, do something—call the police, write down a license plate number, yell out for others to help. If what I'm seeing is not so dire, I promise myself to at least not ignore what is happening and to bear a kind of calming witness. The apparent mother of the crying fallen boy stayed near him after the father, disgusted and furious, left them there, inches from the cars rushing by on Ocean Park Boulevard. She looked toward him as he was leaving the scene with the rest of their brood. She reached her hand down to the boy on the ground, who finally got up and limped away with her. Who knows how many times this scene will be repeated in their family, or what the repercussions will be at home. I try not to make assumptions. I'd like to think that, when I do choose to act as my brother or sister's keeper, I'm doing it from a place of care and concern and not assumption and judgment. It's hard to tell sometimes. I only know that when I see another person suffering it reminds me that we're all in this together, even when we seem to be miles apart, trying to navigate our own bumpy journeys. And sometimes, we desperately need each other's help. wholelifetimesmagazine.com WLT-DEC-JAN-11-24-10pm.indd 42 11/24/13 10:35 PM CTCA

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