In my sophomore year of college in the Spring of 1980, I was taking political science and made acquaintance with a young woman. We were cordial but not close. I knew she was just a bit older than most of us and she was married, so perhaps she felt a bit out of place. I’m sure she appreciated a friendly face.
Late in the semester as I was riding my bike down Franklin Street (the main drag in the college town of Chapel Hill), I saw a bit of commotion up ahead. As I arrived, I quickly surmised that another bike rider had been hit by a car and was lying motionless on the ground. This young woman ran up to me, in tears saying, “I didn’t see him and he came out in front of me.” I lightly hugged her and walked her over to the wall. I listened as she repeated herself. I asked her how I could help. She said her husband was on his way. I was late for what seemed to be important at the time, though I can’t remember now what it concerned.
I told her to remember that it wasn’t her fault and assured her that her husband would be there shortly before riding off.
To this day that interaction haunts me a bit. I would say that I didn’t handle it poorly, but neither did I react as I would have liked. I should have stayed until her husband arrived. I should have not been so quick to tell her that she shouldn’t feel guilty. I don’t believe she was guilty of anything but I wish I had listened more and talked less. More than anything else, I wish I could have been a calming presence.
How can we know how to react when we are witness to life-changing moments? I have had other such moments. None bother me like this one but I’m sure there are other situations I might have handled better.
In thinking this through, I have arrived at three ways I want to be equipped the next time this happens:
Preparation — For anyone in our life, we can pause long enough to know more. What if I had known a little more about this woman? Did she have a particular faith? What was her husband’s name? Was there anything else that might have created a bond which would have enabled me to meet her needs? The point isn’t so much this situation, but rather this: Our lives intersect with others every day. Even a small investment in those relationships might put us in a better position to help if needed.
Invitation — How open are we to others? Do we even notice the clerk at the store? The receptionist in our building? If we have our earbuds on and we avert our eyes to others, are we even available to fulfill the need which exists in the lives of others.
Anticipation — Each day there are small and large crises around us. It is certainly not incumbent on us to solve every problem, but by expecting the unexpected, we open our lives up to something bigger. I catch myself planning everything, where the only place for spontaneity is irritation. If I pull myself away from my schedule, maybe there is something bigger and better than I even knew.
If we want to be available to others, and if we want to be able to pour out our hearts when needed, we need to be available. If our lives have a constant “No Vacancy” sign, we will never have room for others. I can never go back 34 years to that Spring, I cannot plan for the unplanned. What I can do is have a sense of expectancy. When the needy person appears, it should not be a surprise.