During my first year in college, I was sitting at a little outdoor coffee shop on campus. It was a nice, sunny day, and the patio was packed with people. The shop was alongside one of the main campus arteries, and crowds of people were walking by, to and from their classes.
In the distance I noticed a young blind woman working her way among the human traffic flow. She had a cane, as many blind people do, and was using it to navigate along the edge of the path at a steady pace. Just another young student like me, going to class. As she made her way along the railing of the shop and past my table, I glanced over my shoulder to view her road ahead.
And then I saw it.
A large tree was on the edge of the path, its old branches had long since grown out in every direction. One particular branch, on its heavenwardly ascent, cut an angle into the avenue. It only intersected the path at head height for a few feet, an easy obstruction to duck aside or avoid on such a wide lane.
Easy, of course, if you can see it.
I froze. In the massive throng of people, no one else seemed to notice the impending meeting between head and branch. Just me. I knew I should shout out. I absolutely and unquestionably knew I should start yelling loudly “blind woman, please stop!” Maybe vault the rail that separated the coffee shop from the avenue and run to her. Anything but just sit there.
But I didn’t.
The coffee shop was crowded that day. Cute young women, interesting looking artsy peers, fellow classmates. The very type of people I was eager to meet as a new freshman at a strange school, far from home. And somehow that checked me. I was scared of seeming like a crazy person shouting to a blind woman. I didn’t want to stand out.
So I did nothing. And of course, only aware to dangers on the ground with her cane, she hit her head on the low branch. She hit it hard. I could hear it. I still hear it. I sat and watched her suffer pain, because I was afraid to stand up and stand out to do the right thing.
As I said, that event changed my life. I’d always tried to be a good person, helpful and courteous. But I failed that day for no reason other than some ridiculous notion of peer acceptance. I failed my father, as I have no doubt he would have shouted out. And he taught me better. I failed my personal ethics and my sense of right. I failed another human being.
And that moment decades ago has absolutely shaped my life. It has molded my behavior with friends, strangers, social and professional settings. I’ve worked hard to redeem that moment in my actions and interactions ever since, though often I feel I never really can.
And yes, I understand that young woman hit her head 20 years ago, and likely long since forgot the moment. The few people I have related this story think it foolish I’ve let this stay with me so long. But to me, it reverberates as if yesterday, and I imagine it always will. It has been my constant reminder to never freeze, never falter, and never fail to do the right thing.
Kevin Flint – The right thing usually isn’t the easiest thing.