I have a story. I struggled with sharing this on a FB Live. Do I or don’t I? It’s a terrible and sad story about helping people and making the call on when you should or shouldn’t. By the way, I never did do the Live. I love to help people as much as I can. This one time I didn’t, and I should have, and the sadness that followed tore me up for months after.
Life in a small town
For those of you who know, I live in a smallish town in Guatemala. Poverty is high. I think domestic abuse, single family homes and alcoholism are also pretty high. You’re probably wondering why I would live in a place such as this then. It’s also very beautiful and almost magical. I’m all about helping people and that’s one of the reasons I came here. Anyway…
So here, the drunks are usually staggering along some of the streets like a bad version of The Walking Dead, or passed out cold on the sidewalks. More often than not, they’re passed out. On any given day, as I walk to town, I can easily pass 3 out cold on the side of the street. That number has been as high as 6 but as low as zero. Yup, some days, the streets are free of passed out drunks. Rarely, but it happens.
It took a wee bit of getting used to but it’s part of life now. I mean, the city I come from isn’t free of drunks. I’ve seen my fair share. They just aren’t usually sleeping on the streets is all. Anyway…
Then there was this one day…
It was like another day. Walk to the gym, workout, go to the grocery store, home. Stopping occasionally, helping others by giving them money. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Well, actually it was. Now that I think about it. This day has plagued my mind and my heart for the last 24 hours. I imagine as time goes by, that will ease up, but for now, I’m scarred.
That guy. Was passed out cold in front of the store I buy most of my stuff from. It was unusual for two reasons.
- There usually aren’t drunks passed out in front of this particular store or at this location in town (none that I’ve seen anyway), and
- There was something very wrong with him.
I looked at him twice. I was slightly puzzled by this guy. I went in to the store, bought my stuff and walked out. I had to stop and look at him again.
Helping people-to help or not to help
I know with every ounce of my being that something is just not right with this guy. I couldn’t put my finger on it. His breathing is shallow. I can tell but I have no clue what that means. I am no medical student but I know when breathing is shallow like that, something just isn’t right. His eyes were open but he wasn’t really looking at anything. Not quite rolled in the back of his head, they were just staring off vacantly.
Now as much as I love helping people I know there may be times, medically, I’m out of my league.
There is something wrong with this guy. I know it.
Ok. Ok Iva, you’ve already decided he’s not right. Now what? What are you going to do about it? You don’t really want to touch him for health and safety reasons. You don’t really want to try to talk to him or nudge him out of whatever coma he is slipping into because he’s Spanish and you’re English and if he can hear you, he probably will have no idea what you’re saying anyway.
So what now? What on earth am I supposed to do? I mean, there are drunks on the streets all the time. Nobody pays any attention to them. Just walk away Iva. He’ll be ok. Someone will do something, surely, or maybe even the police will come by and throw him in the drunk tank? No clue.
I walked away.
I felt helpless as a foreigner who struggles to speak the language and understand the culture. With an uneasy feeling in my heart and my stomach, I walked away. I left him there, like everyone else did.
And he died. Typing that out right now brings tears to my eyes and makes me so angry with myself. I found out through friends that night, the drunk man on the street died that afternoon.
He died. He freakin’ died, right there, that day.
And I left him when I had the chance to help. I knew something was wrong. And I left him there to die.
We all left him. We all walked by, around and away from the drunk on the street. And he died.
What would you do?
I can go and on about moral obligations and helping people and the homeless ( I mean, that’s what I’m all about, aren’t I????) and stopping to see how to help. I can go on and on. But I won’t. All the feelings of hurt, sadness, frustration, anger, disgust, etc, that I have about my self right now, I deserve. Shame on you, Iva. Shame on you.
As much as we love helping people I get we can’t help them all. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? When do we decide who we help and who we don’t? Is it possible to help each and every single person we meet on the street who looks like they need help?
What would you do?
Friends make you feel better.
As I was recounting my story and sadness to my friend John, he assured me that even if I did try to help it was mostly a lost cause. This guy had his days numbered. He had been like this for 7 years. His death from drunkenness was inevitable. Don’t beat yourself up Iva. You couldn’t have saved him anyway.
Though his words were slightly comforting, I still struggle with the thought that maybe, just maybe……
Peace and Love