“Are you OK?”
When did people stop saying those words to strangers in need? In person, I mean.
Even though we didn’t have a date yet, I knew the day would soon come that my Air Force son would be deploying. When he Skype-IM’d me while I was shopping in Walmart that he’s leaving this Wednesday, well, I kind of lost it. I believe he’ll be safe during his deployment to a part of the world that’s known more for unrest than not. Truly, I do. Still… I’m a mom.
A mom who – like all moms – worries about the safety of her children.
And even though the military thing is something I’ve had to learn to turn over to God (like everything else, huh?), I’m only human and my emotions just bubbled to the surface right then and there. Oh, and I’m one of those “Hallmark” criers too. As in, a Hallmark commercial can bring me to tears lickety-split. Suffice it to say, I wear my heart on my sleeve.
So there I am walking through the crowded aisles on a Saturday afternoon, and I get this text:
“I leave Wednesday.”
Suck in my breath. Try to let it out slowly. Fight to stop the tears from erupting, but… it doesn’t work. Attempt to breathe normally, but it sounds more like I’m hyperventilating. I can feel my eyes redden and tears form rivers down my cheeks. I wipe my eyes with my hands, the sleeves and collar of my shirt. It’s all I can do to get out of the store to find some time to myself and to call my husband.
I look like a fool.
I feel like one too.
And I know people saw me. Heard me.
Once upon a time, people would’ve had the consideration to ask “Are you OK?” or “Can I help?”
Really, I felt so alone at that moment. Alone, when I needed something. Someone.
I wondered if the shoe had been on the other foot, and I saw a woman standing 5 ft from me in the middle of the pet food aisle, staring at her phone and suddenly burst into tears, whether I’d reach out to her. Whether I’d offer a reassuring hug. A word of encouragement. Something – anything – to let her know that it would be okay.
I hope I would. I think I would. But would I, really?
It seems like we’ve heard so much and experienced so much, that we’ve perhaps been conditioned by society to mind own business nowadays.
To not get involved.
Because when good people get involved, there might be unfortunate consequences:
A pizza delivery man is fired from his job when he calls the police after being robbed. A police officer is fired after stopping a fellow officer from choking a man. A train commuter is attacked after stepping in to stop a racial rant by another commuter against some Muslim passengers. A Walmart manager is fired after walking 10 ft outside the store to stop a shoplifter. These aren’t just a few isolated instances: there are more.
We’re more comfortable pressing the “like” button in a virtual world – here, for instance, or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – than extending eye contact to someone in distress in the real world. To click on that like button offers a sort of solidarity with our fellow man that isn’t nearly as awkward as putting our arm around a stranger, or offering a smile and an understanding look.
Not one single person in that crowded store reached out to me. And I was just a woman crying over a minor shock. What about all the people on this planet that are suffering real misfortunes, hardships and anguish? What about them?
How did we get to the point that we stopped doing the right thing and instead do the seemingly smart thing of just minding our own business? Because to my mind, the smart thing to do is also the right thing – look after the person to your right and to your left, in front of you and behind you. Helping one person somehow helps us all.
I’m not sharing this with you because I want your pity, or for you to offer platitudes, but because I saw firsthand just how easy it is to ignore someone wounded and vulnerable. People are hurting, scared, and anxious everywhere. Not just in third-world countries, although they can certainly be found there, but also down the street.
In the elevator at the doctor’s office.
Putting gas in their car at the pump next to yours.
In the airplane seat behind you.
Even in the pet food aisle at Walmart.
Reach out to them. Life is too short not to care.