A rock and a hard place.

This started out as Facebook post but it got too detailed and complicated. So, now it’s a blog post.

I met my book club for dinner in Fountain Square. We laughed, we cried, we talked about books. (Okay, so we didn’t  cry. We’re not that type of club.) As we were leaving, several friends offered to either take me to my car or walk with me since I had a parked in different area than them. I reassured my friends that I was fine – and in my opinion, I was. It was only 8pm, my car was parked in a well-lit spot, it wasn’t terribly cold and I wasn’t worried about getting stuck in the snow. See? Nothing that I couldn’t handle.

As I was walking towards my car, I spotted a man shuffling in the snow.  He was angry, yelling at nothing and ignoring traffic lights. My experience has taught me that angry, shuffling, potentially intoxicated people who are yelling at nothing are best avoided. Since I was by myself, I crossed the street and I waited until he passed.

As I was waiting, a woman approached me and asked, “Is he okay?”

“I think so. He’s just yelling so I’m giving him some space.”

“Oh.” She seemed taken aback by my answer and then continued, “I meant, is he okay because it’s so cold out?”

“Oh.” I wasn’t expecting her response either. I thought about it. “Maybe?”

We both stood on the corner, assessing the situation. I realized I had absolutely no idea what to do. (I also realized there are radically different interpretations of the word okay.) Her assessment of the situation made me want to help him but I couldn’t even decide if assistance would be welcome or safe to offer. The woman standing next to me obviously didn’t know what to do either since she didn’t approach him. It’s possible my assessment of the situation made her decide it was dangerous to initiate a conversation with this man. We both stood there in silence for several moments, watching him, and then we both continued on our separate ways.

Obviously, nothing was resolved. However, it did make me think. Her immediate response was to help another person. My immediate response was to keep myself safe. I don’t think either reaction is wrong.

That man, by virtue of being human, deserves be treated like he matters.  This should go without saying – no one should freeze to death because they are mentally ill or poor or both.

But, I matter too. I have been harassed by all sorts of men in public. (One time an older man followed me around WalMart with his coveralls unbuttoned. I was in middle school.) I have learned that angry and intoxicated is my least favorite combination of personality traits. And this should go without saying- I have a right to keep myself safe.

Why am I posting about this? I’m curious about what you would have done. Is there a happy medium between avoiding this man altogether and getting help for him? Have your experiences taught you that strangers are safe? Have your experiences taught you that angry and intoxicated is a horrible combination? Does anyone want to discuss intersectionality? Any other thoughts?


1 Comment

January 9, 2014 · 3:16 am

One response to “A rock and a hard place.

  1. megs

    Tough questions, but yes, I think I would have done the same thing. You (we) do have a right to keep ourselves safe and use good judgement, and I think you did. With my social work/non-profit background, when I am in a situation like that it is easy for me to think, “oh, maybe this or that is their problem, and I know organizations XYZ and ABC who can help, and there are street outreach teams who have probably helped this person before, etc, so I don’t need to do anything”

    But sometimes I do wonder if that is a cop out… A couple years ago Cam and I were leaving my old house to walk downtown and I saw a person lying down by the fence in the empty lot across the street from my house. Cam didn’t see them, and without saying anything I just turned and changed our course so we wouldn’t get too close. Maybe they were newly homeless, maybe they were hiding from someone, I will never know, but I felt so guilty/embarrassed for intentionally avoiding them. The next night, there were two people there. I felt better that no matter what was going on, they at least had a buddy. The next day they were gone.

    As an introvert I don’t really like any type of stranger, and even interactions with nice, “normal”, new people wear me out. But life requires me to get outside my comfort zone and talk to them and get to know them and it turns out that I end up loving most of them. In theory I think we are called to go out on a limb and help a strangers sometimes, but I don’t know what that looks like practically. I guess what I’m getting at is comfort zone (which can and sometimes should be broken though) versus safety zone (in which you should trust your instincts and take care of yourself first). How do you know which is which? Especially in that moment of passing someone on the street, when you don’t have time to over analyze.

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