Tonight, I felt a little bit special. A part of something. A small cog in a caring system that helps people who are less fortunate, troubled, ill, disadvantaged or in situations I have been in and, with help, managed to pull myself out of, and it amazed me how many people do not want to be part of this.
I’d been to Tesco in Aldershot and was walking back through the underpass when I saw a man slumped to one side, lying in an awkward position, with an orange bag in front of him. To be honest, my first thought was just to walk past and ignore him. It would have been so easy to do. I’d just bought a new dress and was eager to try it on. I also really needed to get back and wash my hair and, as it was just past 11pm, I really needed to go to bed as well. So many reasons to walk past him and go home. So many superficial and idiotic and selfish reasons to walk past another human being, who was obviously in trouble, and ignore him. So I didn’t.
At first I checked to see if he was still breathing. He was. As I wasn’t sure of his condition and how he would react if I woke him, I walked the few yards to the end of the underpass and began to dial emergency services. I tried 101 at first but, as I was about to dial 999, a familiar face walked past me and approached the unconscious man. It was Rick, a man I knew from the local Job Centre. Ok, that meant that someone else was available to ensure mine and his safety. I dialed 999 and was put through to the Ambulance service. With instruction from the operator on the phone, plus Rick’s and my experience of having “been there”, we managed to ascertain that the man, Ben, was severely inebriated and, with our help, in no danger. The ambulance was on its way.
During the time that Rick and I spoke to the guy, quite a few people walked through the underpass. Someone walking a dog, several couples hand in hand, single people going to or from the shop, and many others. Yet, not one single person asked if they could help. No-one spoke to us, even to find out if we were ok. I was on the phone, being instructed to ask certain questions to find out how Ben was feeling, if he was in pain, if he’d been hurt. Despite one of those questions being “Have you had a heart attack recently?” and Ben’s answer being yes, as someone walked past, as I looked up, that person had actually moved over to the other side of the underpass, as if we had some sort of disease. As if heart attacks were catching. It made me think.
When, as a society, did we stop caring? I don’t know how long Ben had been there but it couldn’t have been more than forty-five minutes. That’s how long it had been since I’d walked to Tesco and finished shopping. How many people had walked past him in that time? How many people had passed by, not caring about a fellow human being, and not shown a shred of compassion? When did we, as the human race, stop caring?
I’ve been there. That road that Ben is on. The road of depression, despair, loneliness. The road that leads to lying drunk, passing out and ignored in an Aldershot underpass. I know where that road can lead. It leads to a fork. A choice. A choice that depends on not only you, but the people around you. Those that care. If you have people that care then it helps you to take to fork in the road that leads to living. If not then, chances are, that road will lead downward into darkness.
As it turned out, Ben had been taken in by the Ambulance service several times that day. I didn’t care, neither did Rick. Rick and I had both spoken to him. We had told him of our experiences when we’d been in his position and, I would like to think that Rick would agree with my when I say: If even a spark of what we said leads to Ben getting help, even once, then both of us have been part of something special.
I walked past a person in trouble today. I helped. Someone else walked past and helped too. Maybe if we all helped, we’d run out of people in trouble.