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?”
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