The story of Seattle has more than a few tragic characters. There appears to be a great overlap in the people that are homeless and the people that suffer from fentanyl addiction. It seems too heartbreaking that those without homes and without income would also be those that keep going back to the same toxic drug.
I like to help people. At some point I was told to have a servant mentality and I try to fulfill that. Take time from my life to make others’ easier. I have yet to find a way to cure any person, homeless or not, of their addiction. (My letters to friends that smoke, while well-meant, were hilariously rejected.)
When I encounter people that have life tougher than I, there are some ways that I have found are helpful. I listen when they stop me and want to talk. I offer what little assistance I have on me. But I do not reach out to those on the pavement and try to attend to them. It feels cruel see a person curled up on the sidewalk and just keep walking. Yet, I work early hours. If I had had a long night, the last thing I would want is some jerk rousing me when I had finally gotten to sleep. I have heard of people being dead on park benches for days. So I listen for sounds of breathing, try to see if they are moving, and make sure that they are in a different position than they were the day before.
On Tuesday, I was making my way from the grocery store to my car. On the sidewalk was a man curled up in the fetal position, rolling around and convulsing. Right before I left the store I had been thinking about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It leapt to mind as I approached the man. I walked on, feeling more like the priest or the Levite than the Samaritan.
The next day, I was at work when I saw a woman. She had two carts filled with supplies and was trying to get ready for an event. I walked by as she was pushing a cart of tables and paused when I saw the second cart. I set down my gear, waited for her approach, and asked if she wanted to any help.
“If you’re offering, I’m not going to turn you down.”
I have worked similar events. I grabbed the first of four tables and started setting them up. The woman, probably seven months pregnant, commented about me saving her and her assistant from heavy lifting. “Even given my condition,” she said as she glanced at her volleyball-belly, “you were the only one that offered to help.” That line felt very Good Samaritan-esque to me. I pushed the table cart back to its place in storage and went about my day.
It was much easier and much more natural to help my coworker than it would have been to help the person curled up on the street. One could even make the judgment that I was helping the non-sketchy, white, respectable, pregnant woman, instead of helping the darker-skinned, marginalized, less-acceptable person with addiction troubles. You could say that I picked the easier, more convenient task.
I would answer that in two parts. One, we are constantly barraged with ways to help others. There are a billion people without easy access to drinking water. There are at least thirteen thousand people without homes in my county alone. Numerous organizations exist to cure diseases or help with treatments. Environmental causes, social injustices, education reform; there will always be an infinite number of ways to step up and help others.
I believe that we get nudged towards those that are ours to pitch in with. That helping everyone in every instance is great. But if you only have so much time and so much energy, you should help with the causes that come naturally. I am not saying do not help when confronted with someone in need. However, I do not think that focusing our efforts in a way that plays to our skillsets is a bad thing.
The second point I would offer is that my gut told me to help the woman. It did not push nearly as hard to help the man. (I felt guilt. But I did not sense that I had a solution to his situation.) At one point I had planned to have breakfast with some friends. I chose to stay home longer instead. There was no need for me to be walking by the woman when I did. I had gone out of my way to retrieve something from another building. If I had left it there and ignored it, I never would have seen the woman. As I was putting away the cart, the woman’s assistant showed up and began to help. If I had offered to help five minutes later, it would not have been necessary. I am not a believer in fate. However, I do feel that sometimes situations present themselves that are uniquely meant for us. Timing is everything.
Tuesday prepared me for Wednesday. One interaction got me thinking; put me in the mindset for the next one. Because I saw a man needing help, I was quicker to help the woman. I do not know how to cure world hunger, but I know how to offer a snack to a hungry coworker. I am not an expert on addiction, but I am able to donate blood. I would never say that I help all that I can. I do try to help where I am led.
I cannot say that I am the hero of my story. I like to think of myself as a loyal sidekick. The quiet one in the corner that takes care of the little quirks so others do not have to. I am not a great person. I try to be a good one. And yes, sometimes I try to be a good Samaritan. Then comes the next day. Where the story offers a new set of challenges and plot twists.