That same stranger is no longer such. We spoke again today, and we when we did, it was comfortable. Familiar. His parting words were, "I hope everything works out." I thanked him with as much grace as humanly possible when speaking to a friendly stranger. His kindness bespeaks a warmth and generosity of spirit. My hope is that, even though we are still strangers, one day, I can earn his friendship. The way I have asked him to earn mine.
You see, it is the very kindness of strangers that keeps us alive. Two weeks ago, while driving through the city of Atlanta, I handed $7 through my window to a homeless man with a dog. It was all the cash I had. If I'd had more, I would have given it. No one else waiting at that light did the same. Because of fear.
Fear makes us wary of getting "involved" in other people's lives. But we've all needed a hand once in a while. What did I have to lose by giving a few minutes of my time to a stranger in need? Nothing. I gained instead. As did he. It works the same way with friends....
All too often, we avoid helping someone we care about because we're afraid of insulting them. We don't want to cross any boundaries. If they wanted our help, they'd ask, right???
Sadly, that's not true. Pride, shame, feeling helpless and hopeless, often keeps those in need silent. And silence is deadly.
My friend of 20 years took his life in 2013. I saw him the week before. He did not look well. He had not showered or shaved and was not dressed in his usual clothing. I asked him if everything was okay. He said it was. We had a brief conversation before he departed. But as I watched him walk away, I KNEW something was wrong. I wanted to go after him. I wanted to tell him to please trust me, talk to me, that we would figure it out together.
But I didn't go after him. I let him walk away. I said to myself, "He'll be fine. He's with his family. He's a grown man. Nothing will happen." A week later, he was gone. I could have saved his life. But I was too afraid of what he might say to me if I inserted myself in his business. If I asked him what was going on.
It's a mistake I will NEVER repeat again.
Human life is far more valuable than my pride. What was the worst that would have happened if I had run after him? If I had said, "You do not look okay, no matter what you say. I want to help. Please, talk to me..."?
Maybe he would have continued to deny anything was wrong. Maybe he would have told me to leave him alone. But maybe he'd be alive. Sometimes, just hearing that someone recognizes you're struggling is enough to save a life. And I'd rather be thought of as someone who can't mind her own business than someone who lacked the courage to ask a simple question.
What if he had denied there was a problem? Or told me to leave him alone??? I would have stood my ground. I would have told him how much I cared, even if he was trying to push me away. That, I was his friend, no matter what and wanted to help.
Too often, we're too busy with our own lives. We're not just dissuaded by social scrutiny, but by selfishness: "I've got too much to do to get involved anyway." Funny, but that's what the World said for almost a decade while MILLIONS of innocent human beings were slaughtered during the Holocaust.
Whether one life, or twelve million, we should always make the time and take the effort to help individuals recognize they are not alone. It's the right thing to do. We forget sometimes that we are not just a part of our family and friend groups, but a larger human community.
We're all connected, like invisible strands in a web. Even if from different worlds....
"Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act." -Albert Einstein