This past weekend I saw a homeless man collapse, his head inches away from cars whizzing by on a busy four lane road. My 15-year-old car was being fixed and I’d been stuck in the waiting room for hours, irritated and worried about another $900 repair bill. I’d been watching the man through the window because pedestrians are rare on this particular stretch of road but also because he was elderly with an unsteady gait.
When he fell and remained unmoving, I yelled for the mechanics to call 911 and raced across the street. I stood over him on the curb so that the cars would slow and ease to the other side of the lane. The man stirred and a couple minutes later sat up. By this time more people had run over to help. Two young women (one with a blond ponytail, one wearing a hijab and both surgical techs) took his pulse, a middle-aged tall guy jumped out of his car in the parking lot to help; a middle Eastern gentleman, an employee from the store next door, ran over to see what he could do; a young man (I’m not sure where he came from) remained on his phone with 911 and directed them.
The injured man told me his name and shook his head no when I asked if had any family that I could call. He just wanted to get to his motel room, he said, which was about 400 yards away. Well, that might as well have been 400 miles since he couldn’t even stand.
Then came the sirens and flashing lights. The cavalry arrived. When the man told the paramedics that he was 61 years old I was shocked. He looked closer to 80. He seemed confused, possibly inebriated or possibly mentally ill, repeatedly saying he got dizzy with panic attacks and that he didn’t mean to cause any trouble. His clothing was simple – tee shirt, pull on pants, slip on shoes, a Chicago Bears cap. He needed a haircut and shave. Was he a veteran? Was he a parent? Grandparent? What had happened to him? I didn’t know.
I admit I worried that the paramedics and police officers would be brusque and impatient with the man After all, the news over the past month has been filled with gut-punching stories about cutting federal funding for the elderly, the homeless, the poor, the mentally ill; from rationalizing its necessity to outright glee that we, as a country, wouldn’t have to support “them” anymore.
I was flat-out wrong. Everyone involved that day, from concerned bystanders to overworked emergency personnel, men and women, young and old, different races and faiths, all treated the man with respect. Eventually, the medics and police officers gently coaxed him with humor and kindness into going to the hospital. And once there Social Services would look out for him after he was discharged (which he was later that day).
This incident on a Saturday afternoon reminded me that people are basically good. I’d forgotten that, or misplaced it, or stopped believing that as long as there are good people in this world, there is hope. Simplistic? Maybe. But this realization made my day brighter and I’ll take that over a gut punch all day long and twice on Sundays.
Because I hadn’t even known how desperately I needed the reminder I am sharing this story in case anyone else needs it.