Choose to Help

Earlier this summer, I was in my car at a stop light when I noticed two people on the corner waiting for the crosswalk light to change. One was an elderly lady with a walker and the other was a young guy, maybe early 20s. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and while he didn’t look dangerous, he also didn’t exactly look like a Boy Scout. My first impression of him was not exactly positive, but for no particular reason that I can recall.

That all changed over the next few minutes. The light changed and he and the woman started across the street. There were cars waiting to turn onto the road after the crosswalk was clear. The guy made it almost all the way across when the red hand started flashing, signaling that the time left to cross safely was ending. He looked back and saw that the woman had made it less than halfway across and was going to be stuck in the middle of the road. What he did next surprised me – he turned around and went back to her and started walking slowly next to her, positioning himself between her and the cars waiting to turn. He accompanied her all the way across the street and made sure she got onto the sidewalk safely before moving on.

I was really touched by this and ashamed of myself for my initial, immediate judgment about the guy. He did a really nice thing and the whole event has stuck with me.

Fast forward a few weeks and we are in downtown Chicago on vacation. We are waiting in a large crowd to cross Michigan Avenue by Millennium Park. The street is wide, I think 3 lanes on each side of a small median strip, and very busy. I notice an elderly gentleman with a cane and a bag from a nearby department store. When the light changes, the throng of people start moving and I, along with my husband and son, head across the street with them. I keep looking back to check on the man, however, because he is moving slowly and I am thinking of the lady and the young guy. I feel like I should walk with him but, for some reason, I don’t. I keep checking, though.

Just as I step onto the curb on the other side of the street, I look back again and see that the man has only made it to the median and, as he gets there, he loses his balance and falls over. Without really thinking about it, I put my hand up to signal the cars that I am crossing (and hope they don’t hit me) and run back across the street. I give him my hand to help him up as a couple of people who were in their cars right next the median get out to come help, too. We get him up and get him his cane and check to see if he hit his head (he did not) and if he was otherwise okay (he said he was). I put his purchases back in his bag as they had fallen out into the street and notice that he had been out buying new boxers. That made me a bit sad for some reason.

I stay with him until the light changes again and then accompany him the rest of the way across. He keeps thanking me and I ask him where he was headed, which was to the bus stop on the other side of the street. I leave him when we get to the sidewalk, but keep an eye on him until I see that he is near the stop. Later, I felt that I should have walked him all the way there, but I realize there is a line between helping and hovering and I didn’t want to offend him.

Fast forward again to yesterday. My son is on his way back from a trip with his grandmother on the train. I text him to see if they got on the train and the following exchange occurs:


Turns out, a man brought his mother, who was not well, onto the train and she was unable to walk (and was nearly unresponsive, according to my mother). He was having trouble getting her up and my son tried to help him get her into a seat. At the next stop, the train was delayed as they got an ambulance there to take her off the train, so she really wasn’t in good shape, but my son wasn’t nearby at that point.

What got me the most was his comment in the text, “I chose to help. I didn’t have to.” I haven’t asked him directly, but I’d like to think that, just as I was influenced by the young man helping the woman cross the street, he was influenced by seeing me help the man in Chicago. And maybe someone who saw him step up to help this lady will take the time to help someone else out down the road. We can influence each other by our actions, both positively and negatively. My advice? Keep an eye out for the positive – it is not always as easy to see as the negative, which seems to jump out at us and is broadcast across the TV and Internet all the time, but it is there. And take the time to notice if someone needs help and be willing to step in, if you can.

As the saying goes, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

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