One winter evening, a couple of years ago, we were driving home along the access road next to Route 2 in Arlington, when we spied something lying at the side of the road. As we went past I gasped, “It’s a person!”
My husband, Andrew, slammed on the brakes and backed up until we were several car lengths beyond the person. He got out of the car and ran forward calling, “Are you alright? Are you hurt?”
I, on the other hand, stood behind the safety of my open car door, yelling, “Do you need help? Are you drunk?”
Somehow we had the presence of mind to call 911, my husband having visually determined that the guy was breathing. What we didn’t do was touch him. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean Andrew. I never got much further than a few steps away from the car, while begging Andrew to come away from the guy.
When the policeman arrived he determined that the person was as drunk as the proverbial skunk, and poured him into the back of his cruiser to deposit back at the police station. The policeman told us that by stopping we probably saved the guy’s life because he was in a great spot to be run over.
That was cold comfort for me. Don’t misunderstand; I’m glad he wasn’t run over. But while our presence may have kept a car from flattening him, it wouldn’t have done him any good had he been; bleeding, choking on his own vomit, having a seizure, a heart attack, an aneurism, etc., etc., etc.
I’m not proud of the way I reacted.
As part of the generation of Jews born on the heels of the Holocaust, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time mulling over what I would have done had I been a non-Jew in a Nazi-occupied territory. I always thought that I would have hidden Jews in my attic, or worked with the underground to sabotage the enemy. I believed that I’d have risked myself rather than imply complicity by silence. Now I’m not so sure.
When I saw that man on the ground I didn’t think, ‘I must rush to help him!’ I thought, ‘What if has a gun?’ I completely forgot that I was in a nice, upper-class suburb where guns rarely, if ever, intrude. My fear was completely unfounded, and thoroughly paralyzing.
I’m much more forgiving in general now. I know that while people may not always behave the way we’d like them to, that doesn’t mean that they don’t wish they could.