One afternoon a few months ago, I was minding my own business and driving down a relatively busy street when I noticed a man lying on the sidewalk.
It was an odd scene. The same way you’d see a few leaves, a discarded soda can, a crumpled piece of newspaper or some other random element on the sidewalk, here was a grown man. I wasn’t sure if he was unconscious, dead, OK or not OK (likely not, because really — how many times have you just found yourself horizontal on the sidewalk as traffic passed by you?). I didn’t know what to do, other than call 911.
When I called, they seemed more interested in getting an idea of what specific landmarks were around the intersection I’d already provided to them (everything from whether I was near a gas station, a particular building, a sign, a store, a restaurant).
Aside from the train tracks that passed over that same intersection, I mean — really — what other landmark does someone need other than to just simply look for the grown man sprawled out on the sidewalk along the south side of the street?
I wondered how many cars had passed by and done something. Or nothing. I wondered if any city buses had seen him. I wondered if he’d fallen from the train tracks above, and whether he had any internal injuries. I wondered how long help would take to arrive.
About 20 minutes later, I figured I’d gotten my answer when I heard sirens approaching. I wasn’t 100% sure because I was inside a building, but I could only hope that they were there for him.
I haven’t thought of the man since that day, but earlier this evening I drove past that same intersection and the memory came back to me. That day I said a quiet prayer for him. No matter who he was, how he’d gotten there — whether at the hands of someone else, due to a medical condition or maybe some time spent with the bottle — nobody deserves to have nothing else around them except for concrete, cars speeding by and the sun beating down over arms and legs that appeared to have just given out beneath his weight.
Tonight I am thankful for the memory of this man and the gentle reminder that sometimes the line between life and death — while it can’t be seen — is a delicate one. Whether literally, emotionally or otherwise, helping someone to err on the side of life — even if you’re not sure of the final outcome — is one of the most powerful things we as humans are able to do for each other.