Do you need any help?


By Jae-Ha Kim
May 26, 2014

Last year, I was sitting in the bleachers waiting for my son’s swimming lesson to be over. I noticed a woman. She had her back turned to me, but I could see that her body was shaking and that she was trying to stifle her tears.

I wasn’t sure what to do. So, at first, I ignored her. Then I dug around in my purse and pulled out some tissues. I brought them over to her and asked her if there was anything I could do to assist her.

She looked embarrassed and said that everything was OK.

A few minutes later, she came over and told me that things were really tough for her that day with her misbehaving children, a husband who didn’t understand why the house wasn’t immaculate when he came home and a mountain of laundry that her teenagers were supposed to, but refused to, do. I just nodded my head and listened. She didn’t want advice, she  just needed to vent.

Today, my son and I were at our local pool. It was a beautiful day and he was having a blast playing in the water. I wanted him to practice some of his strokes, though, so I told him that I would jump in and he could swim to me and then back to the ledge.

I’m not sure what happened, but when I jumped into the pool, I did something to my arm that made me scream out from the excruciating pain. (I have a shoulder injury that is being treated by a doctor and physical therapist. I just didn’t think that jumping into the water would hurt it any.)

I was in such distress that I actually feared I might drown. My right arm was immobile and I was crying a bit from the pain. I quickly looked around to make sure my son was safe, and then I climbed up the ladder using my one good arm to help me.

I looked around for my neighbors, who I knew were also at the pool, as well as a friend who’s a nurse. They were nowhere in sight. I called my husband, whose phone was out of cell coverage at the time. I called two friends who lived nearby and went directly into their voicemail. And I actually began to panic a bit, which made me cry more. My shoulder hurt so badly that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive us back home.

My son, who is in kindergarten, watched me solemnly, not sure what to do. He said, “You need to call Daddy again and tell him he has to pick us up. Don’t worry, Mommy. I’ll take care of you.” He sat beside me massaging my shoulder and telling me that everything would be OK, which made me sprout a few more tears.

Of course, he was right. After some prescription anti-inflammatory medicine, an ice pack and some rest, my shoulder still hurts, but I can move my arm again. I am fine. My shoulder will heal.

My faith in humanity, though, has been shaken.

In that packed swimming pool, at least a dozen adults saw me crying and struggling to get up, and not one of them came over to ask if I needed assistance. The patrons seated next to us and behind us couldn’t help but hear me leaving messages for people, telling them that I needed help. Not one of them said, “Are you all right?”

Honestly? I am sure that if I had approached someone to ask for help, (s)he would have offered aid. But I wasn’t thinking as logically as I should have.

There is a concept in tort law called “duty to rescue,” where a party can be held liable for failing to help a person who is in peril. It was the basis of a plot line in the series finale of “Seinfeld.” It kind of boggles my mind that there needs to be a law to cover this.

At what point does a person take it upon themselves to help a stranger who may be in need and ask, “Do you need any help?”

Long before we immigrated to the U.S. — my father was riding a bus in Seoul when he saw a woman go into labor. She was all alone and had no one to aid her. The rest of the passengers minded their own business. No one made a move to help her. So my father rushed from his seat and helped her deliver the baby. When we heard this story decades later, he laughed it off and said all he really did was catch the baby.

I asked how he could’ve done that. He said, “How could I have not?”

© 2014 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (24)

  1. Shemp says:

  2. Shawna says:

  3. Roboseyo Ouwehand says:

  4. Whitney says:

  5. Lisa Holton says:

    Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me.

  6. the-voyage-never-ends says:

    I know this doesn’t help you, but it is a well known psychological thing called the Bystander Effect. If there had only been one other person there, they’d likely have helped. Check out the Kitty Genovese story. Also, I’m sorry that no one helped.

  7. Kim Jaehwa says:

    This is truly amazing. Thank you for sharing htis.

  8. Niki says:

    That disappoints me. I’m glad you’re ok now. I would have helped you had I seen you 🙁

  9. anja_mari says:

    Gosh I hope u okay?!!

  10. korwegianseoul says:

    He looks like a good swimmer already? So sweet ur story. Kids are awesome

  11. bunniexoxo says:

    Omgosh how horrible!! I hope you are okay!

  12. laraashoop says:

    I am so sorry 🙁 I hope you are okay and I’m glad your son took care of you – bless his heart. Compassion, and selflessness are such important character traits- you’ve taught your son well xx

  13. concorexhappiness2x says:

    Oh crap first your father hes a good man! Second total butt heads living in this world sorry that happened and hope your ok now

  14. John Harrold says:

    Ha. I have been on the receiving end of “No good deed goes unpunished.” many times.

    For example, I was stopped at a light at a busy intersection one day, when I saw a young woman collapse on the median strip. I jumped out of my car and ran over to her, thinking that she was having a seizure.(I am pretty sure that she did.) As soon as I got to her, she opened her eyes. I helped her up, and then she glared at me, pushed me, and said, “Get the (expletive) away from me.” Then she crossed the lanes of traffic and walked away.

    And then there was the time I performed the Heimlich maneuver on an elderly woman who was choking in a restaurant. I was just thrown up on a little that time, but I am glad that I probably saved a life.

    However, I heard the news in 1964, about Kitty Genovese, the woman who was brutally murdered while crying out for help for a long period of time in New York. Her cries for help were ignored by countless people. I was a kid, but I promised myself that I would never be apathetic. The late Phil Ochs was inspired to write Outside of a Small Circle of Friends by that incident. I will always get involved, despite the potential consequences. 🙂

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      You’re a good egg, John. The-voyage-never-ends commented about “the bystander effect” and the Kitty Genovese murder as well, earlier this evening.

      One of the times I was on the receiving end of the “no good deed goes unpunished” was when a movie producer sent a birthday gift to his elderly mother. Somehow, it was delivered to me rather than her. She lived nowhere near me. I contacted the producer’s office, arranged for FedEx to redeliver the package and felt good about myself that this woman would receive her gift from her son in time to celebrate her birthday. Nope. His office called me to complain that FedEx was charging them for a second delivery. And, somehow, this was my fault? LOL!

  15. secondcitymom says:

    So sorry to hear that. I think your som has the biggest heart for helping you. I hope you’re alright…

  16. Jimin says:

  17. littlebitbrit says:

    Wow your dad! Amazing

  18. jaeun2 says:

    I feel like there should be a movie about your dad ❤️ and so sorry no one helped you. Your son though~ he’s a sweetie!

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