Updated: Aug 22, 2019
My conscience is burdened. I want a second chance.
A few months ago, January to be exact, I had just moved to Portland, OR. It was a cold, wet, and snowy day. I was in a meeting at somebodies office that I was meeting with for the first time. His office was in a co-workspace in downtown Portland where hundreds of other business professionals worked out of as well.
We’d sat down in a conference room and began discussion shortly before we’d found out that the room was reserved by another company in the building for that hour. We exited, and found a table nearby the front desk entryway of the building.
The mans company was based around sports and international philanthropy. We shared stories of some past trips and philanthropic experiences since I was in a similar space. Spoke about the amazing organizations we’d worked with, incredible people we’d met in foreign countries, and upcoming plans to do more.
As we conversed, I noticed a small commotion at the front desk about 30 feet away or so. A lady was asking “why” in a very disturbed manner. Pleading loudly, but the sentences I couldn’t quite make out. She was a middle aged Native American woman wearing black clothes that looked like they’d been withered and tattered. She had a plastic bag of belongings with her, so I assumed she was homeless. This woman was clearly being denied something at the check in desk. She began to moan loudly in what sounded like a mix between agony and frustration. Other members of the co-workspace walked by her and she’d look to them and ask something as they’d just keep walking without acknowledging her. It seemed clear that people were intimidated. I’m not sure if it was her appearance, how she was acting, or if maybe this was just a common occurrence as nobody seemed to make a deal of it.
Finally, I was able to make out what she was trying to do. She yelled, “I just need to make a call!” In a very disgruntled tone.
The woman walked over to the table I was seated at. And mumbled some words I couldn’t make out. I asked her to repeat. Again, I couldn't make it out what she was trying to say. I asked a third time.
She responded, “One call. Can I use one of your phones to call my friend? I just need to make one call.”
The man I was meeting with suggested her to the front desk where they have a phone saying he’s sure they will help. She responded frustrated saying they won’t let her use the phone. She then pleaded again. I sat frozen. I looked around. I looked back at the man I was meeting with. We both just stared not knowing what to do as she continued to plead mumbling more words I couldn't understand. I couldn’t tell if she was drunk, high, sick, or what it was that had her speech so slurred and had her so angry.
My heart was telling me to pull out my phone and give it to her… my hand was on top of it ready to… then my brain would say, but why hasn’t anybody else? Surely if I wait somebody will come help her. Or is there something I don’t know about her? Is she in here often? What if she runs off with it? What if she sits down and doesn’t leave and I never finish this meeting? What if she is drunk or on drugs and it turns into an ordeal to get my phone back? What if? What if? What if?
“I just need to make one call, it won’t be long, and nobody will even let me do that. What is wrong with all you people?!” She yelled out.
Somebody from the front desk came over to try to usher her back outside into the snow saying she can’t be in there without credentials. Which is true per their rules of course. But is not true per rules of humanity. She walked away from the lady shouting at others in a last ditch effort to try to get somebody out of the hundreds of entrepreneurs to cough up their phone. She seemed truly desperate. Nobody would respond to her.
“I’m in pain. I can’t take the cold, I’m in pain and need to call my friend so she can get me!” she yelled. My heart sunk. “And not one of you will help me! Shame on you!” She got ushered out the door.
My heart sunk. I wanted to run after her. But I didn’t. I remained frozen. Knowing I should have helped. But for some reason, didn’t even say yes or no. I went from a conversation talking about helping starving people in foreign countries, to immediately denying somebody in dire need in my own hometown. I was disgusted with myself.
Me and the guy I was meeting with looked at each other and he simply said, “that’s so sad.” “Yeah it is” I replied.
This interaction has stuck with me. It eats at me. Somebody came to me, asking for a simple favor, and I just sat there because of how I judged her by how she looked and how she was acting. And didn’t do a thing. The woman was pleading desperately. Clearly in pain. Clearly cold from the snowy day outside. Clearly needing help, yet I convinced myself she was a risk.
To me this interaction has become a significant moment in my life. Yes, hundreds of others didn’t help her either. But those people aren’t me. I was supposed to be the one to help her, and I failed her.
Recently a high school football coach named Keanon Lowe tackled a gunman potentially stopping a school shooting from happening in Portland, Oregon where I live and his response was, "When confronted with the test the universe presented me with, I didn't see any other choice but to act. Thank God, I passed." I’d thought about the idea of what if that was God giving me a test. Pleading for help where one person needed to step up. And I failed her. I failed God.
What if the woman left, never finding a way to make the call, and died that night in the cold? And I could have helped her.
What if she was slurring because she was in pain, mad that people didn’t seem to care, was frozen cold, and I assumed she was acting that way because she was under the influence. If she was dressed differently would I have helped? If I would have recognized it wasn’t drugs or alcohol would that have even changed my decision? Or would I have still made such a disappointing decision to just freeze and not do anything simply because nobody else was?
I’ve gone over this moment so many times, because I’ve never been so disappointed in myself. My gut said to do something, but I essentially conformed to what those around me were doing even though it was to the possible detriment of another human being.
I can never get a do over at that moment. I realize that. I may have to answer for that decision one day as well. But the good that has come from that interaction is that I know without a doubt that I will never freeze and fail somebody in that way again. I will never wait for somebody else to do what I know needs to be done again. I will do it without hesitation. If it’s the same scenario, then so be it if I help and the person steals my phone. A phone is a replaceable item. A person is an irreplaceable life. That’s a risk worth taking.
I wanted to share this moment in my complete and real account. I'm hopeful that sharing it will influence somebody, even just one person, to do what I wish I would have done. Even if sharing it is to my own detriment by showing how cold and disappointing I was in that moment that was so unlike how I ever would have thought I’d act in a moment like that. I wanted to share it because I want you to think the next time that you’re presented with a situation like I was. A situation where somebody is in desperate need, and you are capable of helping. Who cares if nobody else will help. YOU go be that example and go help. YOU be the good human. Be the one that is different. Be the one that doesn’t conform to others poor decisions or decisions of inaction. Most likely, the others in that room with me that day sat there thinking the same exact thoughts I was having hoping somebody else would step up.
Learn from my mistake. Be the person that never misses a moment to help. Even if it seems so small and insignificant as a phone call. You never know what the power of one call, or one missed call can be.