I want to follow up on yesterday’s blog with an incident that happened to me a few years back.
When I first moved to Albuquerque, NM, I didn’t have a car, so I did all of my traveling by bus. The bus that came to my neighborhood only ran on the half hour, and the bus that came on the half hour (1:30, 2:30, &c…) went to one destination while the bus that came on the hour (1:00, 2:00, &c…) went to another. So really, they ran on the hour. However, with some judicious planning and multiple transfers, one could get where one was going in a good time. Anyway, this story happened at the bus stop while I was waiting for the bus. Because there was such a long time between busses, I’d normally walk from one bus stop to the other, so I was a bit down the road from my home and sitting in a slightly strange neighborhood. One other person was sitting with me, reading a book if I recall. I remember debating internally if I had enough time to make it to the next bus stop — about ten minutes. It was while I was making this decision that a woman came into the bus stop looking very nervous. I, of course, asked her what was wrong.
She explained that she’d just had a fight with her significant other and was trying to get away from him. She didn’t know what to do or where to go. I offered to call the police on my cell phone but she declined. She was afraid he would see her in the bus stop and again didn’t know what to do. So I gave her my jacket and hat and stood in front of her with my back to the street. My jacket reached down to her knees since she was much smaller than me, and my hat covered her hair. She sat in the corner of the bus stop so the trashcan (pictured above) hid her from view coming one way, but not the other. The other occupant of the bus stop moved closer to us but didn’t engage in conversation. I think he just wanted to show solidarity. I told her to keep talking to me and sit as naturally as possible. While we talked, she informed me that she saw her significant other driving up and down the road. I once again offered to call the police, and she once again declined the offer. While we were talking, I suggested that she go to a women’s shelter, because this situation is exactly what women’s shelters are for. I even looked them up on my phone for her and offered to write down the numbers. I offered to go with her on the bus and pay her way if she didn’t have the fare. She deferred. She instead wanted to go to her best friend’s house. I warned her that this would be the first place her significant other would look for her, but her mind was made up.
The bus came and the three of us all got on. She, of course, didn’t have the money for the fare, so I paid the dollar to get her where she was going. Her significant other drove past the bus going towards their home as we sat down. I offered a third time to call the police, and she once again rejected the offer. I again urged her to please go to a woman’s shelter instead of her friend’s house, but again she said that it would be okay. She gave me back my coat and hat, thanked me for my help and got off a few stops later. That was the last I saw or heard of her. The whole incident lasted less than 20 minutes, and I really feel that she made a bad choice going to her friend’s house. But it was her choice to make. Not mine. What else could I do but let her go? It didn’t sit well with me, but she was an adult.
So my point, dear reader is this. There are many many people who will say I should have done more for this woman. And things vary on what “more” entails. But I say, when do we as “helpers” draw the line and take away free agency from the people we’re helping? I offered more than once to both call the police and escort this lady to a women’s shelter. She refused. It was her right to refuse — even if I thought is was a bad decision. I could not make that decision for her. And as for my not doing enough, what is enough anyway? When we decide to help someone, where do we draw the line and say, “This is where I stop helping?” In my case, if this young lady had taken up my offer to go to a women’s shelter, I would have escorted her to the women’s shelter. I’da paid her fare there and ridden with her to make sure she got there and made sure they could take her in so she wasn’t left out on the streets. If they couldn’t take her in, I might have offered her a place for the night until she could find somewhere that wasn’t her friends’ house — because I’ve been in her shoes. And I’ve sheltered people in that situation before. If she had accepted my offer to call the cops, I’da called the cops and waited with her until they came. Then I would have waited until they were done to make sure they didn’t screw her over like they did me (another story), and to see if she needed an escort to a women’s shelter and/or a place to sleep. — I also want to note that had any of those thing happened she could have at any point said, “It’s okay, I’m good.” and I would have said. “Okay.” and left her to her own defenses. Because that’s how things work in my world. — But she refused those offers — multiple times — so I couldn’t do any of those things. I did everything that was within my ability to do. And anyone who says I should have done more can bite me.
But here’s another thing. If dude had stopped his car… had found her despite the “disguise” of my hat and coat and had confronted her physically, there isn’t much I could have done about it. I’m not a strong person. I didn’t have anything to use as a weapon to help her. I might have stayed in front of her, I might not have. I sure as hell would have called 911 as soon as he got out of his car, because she was obviously terrified of him. And I would have stayed on the phone no matter what. But other than that, there’s no way I would have gotten in a physical altercation with a dude. I’m sorry, that’s not happening. I know my limits, and street fighting isn’t on the agenda. Luckily, he never did find her — at least not during the short time she was with me. Every once in awhile, I do wonder what happened after she walked off the bus because the possibilities are many. I don’t feel any guilt because as an adult, she carried her fortune in her hands. I could only try and help, which I did. I hold the small hope that my tiny act of kindness stuck with her and she found the strength to get away from her abusive significant other. But I guess I’ll never know.
My point in relaying this story to y’all is that while I don’t go to rallies and I don’t espouse my political views on every forum or venue that’s available to me, I do help. I’m not a bystander. And there are hundreds of thousands — if not millions or even billions of people just like me who help those around them in small ways as they need help. This lady isn’t the first person I’ve helped, nor will she be the last. I only tell her story because it proves a point, that we are often limited in the help we can give… had she been a child running away, I would have totally called the cops and the Child Protective Services no matter what. But she was an adult with her own rights and decisions. And no matter how much I wanted her to go to women’s shelter, I couldn’t force her. That was her decision alone to make. Just as I cannot be forced to change the way I chose to change the world. I will change it one person or act of kindness at a time. And if you, dear reader, chose a different way, then that’s okay too. I only ask that you respect my decision as I respect yours.