May 19, 2003
I'm pretty shaken today.
I was on the way home from my sister's barbecue yesterday, and I was sitting on the platform at Three Bridges station. A young woman came onto the platform, and used the telephone just along from the bench where I was sitting.
I noticed that she was crying bitterly during her conversation, which went on for about five minutes. Of course, this isn't the first time I've seen someone crying in public, but she seemed unusually distressed. I thought about approaching her, seeing if she was OK. But I didn't.
Looking back, I'm not entirely sure why. Partly I was concerned that she'd think I was some dirty old man trying to take advantage of her distress - as I said, she was young, and pretty. Mostly, though, if I'm honest with myself, I think that it was just basic English reticence, and a sense that it was none of my business.
She moved off down the platform. When the train came in, she stood as if waiting for it, but didn't board - she walked away from the edge to the centre of the platform, not exactly crying now, but gasping air. I got on the train, and it set off towards London.
The train stopped at Gatwick, and the power went out. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that this was due to a passenger fatality at Three Bridges. My blood ran cold.
I'm almost certain that it was the girl that I'd seen.
Since then, the "what if" scenarios have been whirring around my head ceaselessly. Had I spoken to her, would it have made any difference? Probably not. But I could have bloody tried. What would it have cost me? I feel like a coward.
I will never, never walk away from someone in obvious distress ever again. You shouldn't, either - it is your business. We are all responsible for one another.
Update 22nd May, 10:15 a.m.: The girl didn't die. Wow - I feel a lot better now. Thanks to my brother-in-law for pointing this out...
Posted to Apropos of nothing by Simon Brunning at May 19, 2003 10:20 AM
Agreed, unless you are in a place where suicide bombings are popular. In that case, if you see some one in distress and alone, call authorities first.
I have never read your blog before, so please excuse my ignorance for not knowing if you are a religious person or not - I do however suggest that this one experience that you "give to God," whatever it is you believe God to be, and let yourself off the hook.
I'm not familar with commuter trains or train stations, so the setting you describe is not one I can picture. But I wonder, are there "authorities" of some kind available? I ask because I believe that there was probably little you could have done for this young woman yourself. Offering her a kind word, or expression of concern might have jolted her out of her misery, but more likely it would have been met with a startled "I'm OK" leaving you no choice but to continue on your way. Such an encounter would not have altered her situtation and therefore probably have no effect on whatever occured after you left. Unless of course you are a mental health worker with greater skills than most of us have. However, an authority might have been able to remove her from the area, thereby maybe preventing whatever occured.
Whatever the case I admire your pledge "I will never, never walk away from someone in obvious distress ever again." but be prepared - people in real distress are often not rational and, speaking from experience, sometimes trying to assist them can be as "trying for you soul" as walking away.
First, my best wishes to you. Been there.
Now, deep breath. You THINK it's the girl. You don't know yet. It may not be. Even if it is, her death could also be coincidence rather than a deliberate act. It happens. When you KNOW, it will be easier to sort it all out.
As for offering assistance... if you do, you need to be prepared to deal with the possibility that intervening may set somebody off. There's no easy answer in these situations, and no freedom from risk - to them, and to you. Go in only if you've decided that you'd rather try and fail than kick yourself for not trying - because that may be your choice. Then walk in with due care for your own safety, and an open heart.
In the end, we are NOT responsible for one another. It is challenge enough to be responsible for ourselves. We are responsible for being the best people we can be, however, and sometimes that means extending a hand to someone in need. What they do with that hand... is no longer your decision.
Winds of Change.NET
Best wishes that God may be with you and her family.
It is awfully difficult to reach out to a stranger, especially if no entre presents itself. And even having done so, the chance of success cannot be deemed great. Nonetheless, the chance should be taken if it presents itself. Most likely the same thing would have happened whatever you did. And it happens countless times every day, but at greater distance from us.
Similar espisodes, usually shocking in their surprise, have led me to conclude that we know others, even those close to us, only dimly. As Joe said, our first responsibility is for ourselves. Then our families, and then our constellation of friends, some small number of whom may be plagued, unbeknownst to all around them, by demons as was this woman. Making sure your friends know and believe you will be available for them is what you can do. Look on every friendship as irreplacable, because it is.
The Chinese have the right idea. Save a person's life and you are responsible for them until they die.
Perhaps you could have saved her. Perhaps she would have dragged you into her pit.
These are not matters to be taken lightly. There is obligation. There is risk. Sometimes life and death.
With all due respect, M. Simon, I think the Chinese are totally wrong. Unless the person is a minor or some such, nobody is responsible for that person but that person. I've got to agree with Joe here. What the person does with the hand you extend is forever and truly beyond your control.
That being said, never try to save a drowning person when you, too, are struggling for air. If you can't handle watching a person die in front of you (metaphorically) while being powerless to stop it, be careful about how far you step in.
I've stepped in before. It's _scary_. Such steps are above and beyond the call of duty for even a good person. Kind of like those scenes in movies where the Captain says, "I need some volunteers."
Perhaps when you know more about what really happened, you'll better be able to chart the lesson better. That there's a lesson is about the only thing that's certain now - anytime you get shaken, there's a lesson.
Being one's brother's keeper is a topic near and dear to me, and after lots of thought and plenty of years teaching it in a multitude of contexts, I've arrived at a simple idea with wide implications:
We are responsible FOR ourselves and our actions, no one else is, nor are we responsible for theirs. To the degree that we choose, we are responsible TO others to act in their best interest while keeping out own best interest in mind and heart. For some and at some times, this might mean great risk or sacrifice, for others and/or at other times, it might mean much less.
Thus, we can assume the mantle of making the best choice as we perceive it, accepting that the results are very often beyond our influence.
In that light, and once the details are known, if you feel you should've acted differently, the lesson will be available for future similar situations. You seem to have already arrived at a conclusion to extend a hand in the future.
Finally, regarding the fear of acting, and the guilt stemming from results of your action (or inaction), both are useless emotions to hang on to. Once you've decided, let go of the fear. Once the results are in, let go of the guilt.
Do save the lesson(s) though.
Er, that's "our own best interest" not "out own best interet".
This is a tough one. If you go at it from a strictly Old Testament point of view, yes, we are all our brothers' keepers. I understand British reticence. Across the pond, we are all part of the "me" generation, and are loath to cross our own boundaries. But for me personally, the rule I use is, "If that were me, would I want someone to approach ME?"
If you do choose to step in, you do the best you can and give the rest up to God. If you don't step in and get personally involved, there's nothing that says you can't immediately offer up a prayer for that person without having to approach them directly. Never underestimate the power of prayer.
Thank you for sharing such a personally horrific experience and how it affected you. My thoughts and prayers are with you. (And if you still feel guilty, give it up to God, okay?)
My advice is: find out the facts. Get on the phone. Go and talk to people face to face. Take a couple of days off work if you have to, and establish the truth.
Do not be put off by people who tell you it's not your fault or problem so you don't need to know. You do need to know.
Or, if on the one hand you're saying you'll never be put off again, and on the other hand you remain so easily put off that you don't even find out for sure what it is that you're reacting to, how does that add up?
Firstly, I'd like to thank all respondents for their words and thoughts. Thanks for the support.
Three Bridges isn't a tube station, it's a mainline station. There wasn't a guard that I could see. At that time on a Sunday, the platform was very quiet. Besides, it really didn't occur to me that she was going to harm herself. If it *had*, I would *absolutely* *definitely* have intervened. I thought about approaching her, not because I thought that she might hurt herself, but just because she was in pain. That should have been reason enough.
As for giving it to God, well, I'm an atheist, so that isn't available to me, I'm afraid. Nor is there anyone to forgive me, other than myself.
I think that perhaps 'responsibility' wasn't quite the right word. We aren't quite responsible for one another - after all, you can't really have responsibility without power. But we do have a *duty* to one another. After all, if I don't look out for others, who is going to look out for me?
You know neither what all of the consequences of intervening will be, nor what all of the consequences of not intervening will be. People are not especially logical at the best of times. Please don't beat yourself up over this.
In a different world ... but we live in this one. I've helped, and not helped, and can't figure out a good rule.
Those who've observed that suicidal personalities are very difficult and dangerous to deal with are correct. It's possible you couldn't have helped. And it's possible that had you helped, you'd have wound up drawn into the swirling vortex of a dysfunctional person's life.
Or, yes, perhaps, maybe, a kind word from you would have helped. Maybe. You will never know for sure. But I hope you do not beat yourself up over it. I know that were I in your shoes, I'd feel the same way.
If nobody is responsible for another that says do not step in.
I say if you step in you are responsible.
Aren't you in fact taking responsibility if you step in?