Sunday, June 29, 2014

Breathing Was (Not) Good Enough

“Is He Alive?” We Wondered
A Shady Place in Summer

It sounds like this.
Late summer afternoon heat crept into his limbs. The warmth tired him and the nearby tree, abundant with its shade, beckoned him from beneath its boughs. Seeking respite from the sun, he lay beneath its leafy arms and succumbed to the siren call of cool sleep. Passersby noted his slumbering form and left him undisturbed to rest away whatever may have been his troubles of the day.
Sound idyllic? Like a nap stolen on a sweet summer day? The description is accurate, but it leaves out some important details.

But it was more like this.
The scene was no park, nor beach, nor sheltered place of idle, pleasant repose. The Citgo gas station parking lot of Military Trail in Lake Worth, Florida, has the just-described tree with its long limbs to provide shade and shelter from the searing heat of the South Florida sun in late June.
No grass cushioned the man I saw sleeping there yesterday just as we were about to pull away after getting gas. Clad in jeans, a shirt, and shoes, an unidentified bottle of refreshment nearby, he slept. Off to the side of the station, he wasn’t readily visible, but we saw him and noted his prone, unmoving figure. “Is he alive?” we wondered.
Samaritans we were not, but we did pause in our travels long enough to determine whether we could see the rise and fall of his chest, signifying breath and life. Confirming that breath and life, we drove on.
Today, I tell myself I’m just like those passersby in Internet-posted videos who see someone in distress and do not stop to help. I made the judgment, which may be accurate—or not—that he was passed-out drunk, or homeless, or drug addicted. Beyond waiting to confirm he was alive, I deemed he was not my concern.
I wonder, would I have done the same if he were well-dressed? Would I have done the same if he were in an upscale neighborhood or shopping mall and not in a depressed area that has more than mere hints of blight?
I also ask: Did I miss the chance to aid an angel of whom I was unaware?
I cannot answer these questions.
Instead I ask a question to which I know the answer: Did I pass by a chance to show compassion, care, and concern to another human? It is to my shame that I whisper in response, “Yes.”

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