A Moment of Hesitation

Not a post I planned for today, but…

It’s a chilly, damp, cloudy day today.  I was walking across campus a little over an hour ago, enjoying the weather before it turns really nasty.

I cut through the student union building and continued across.  Just on the other side, heading in my direction, was a girl dressed as though she was one of our student-athletes – zip-up sweatshirt/windbreaker thing in the team colors, and shorts despite the weather.

She was walking in a slightly odd manner that made me look twice.  Her head was bowed, and though there were no tears present, she was wearing an unmistakable look of distress.

I momentarily slowed in my stride.  There were people waiting on me, of course.  And there are any number of reasons why a guy in my position shouldn’t accost random young ladies on the campus.  But I was struck by a strong urge to stop her and ask her what was wrong.  In my hesitation, I let her pass by.

Immediately I regretted it, but if there was something keeping me from stopping her, those same feelings were even stronger reasons not to turn around and chase after her.  I kept on walking, but my misgivings kept growing with each step.

I don’t know exactly what I could have done other than to show somebody noticed and gave at least a hint of a shit about how she was feeling.  Direct her to the student counseling center?  Delay my meeting and offer an ear for her to unburden her soul?  Would she have even wanted someone to take notice?

Nonetheless, I walked on with the feeling that there’s really something wrong with me when I let my fear of being perceived as a creep keep me from trying to help out someone who to all appearances could have used someone reaching out to her.

Do you agree?  Should I have stopped her or chased after her?  Or was I better off just to let her go?

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8 Responses

  1. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You can’t know, really, if she would have appreciated being asked if she was okay, or if she would have been embarrassed. I understand why you hesitated, and I understand why you regret hesitating. Hopefully it was just a passing worry for her and her day will get better. But if you see her again and she’s still upset, I’d stop her and ask if she needed help.

    I kept a sharp eye out for her on the way back. No dice.

  2. It’s a tough call. There’s a fine line between helpful citizen and incarcerated felon. If you’d caught her eye then maybe it wouldn’t have seemed to awkward. But to approach a stranger who is on a path of serious intent probably isn’t wise.

    I once reached for a kid who was teetering on a curb on a busy street. The mother wasn’t paying attention until I’d pulled the kid back as a car passed inches away. She started to freak out on me. I reacted as you’d expect.

    Pushed the kid into traffic.

    No, I didn’t do that. I just thought it.

    It would have been the outcome. The kid was going down. I’d been watching him run close to traffic for a few minutes knowing losing balance or getting clipped by a passing vehicle was an option. I stayed out of it until immanent danger. Even then, my good intention was misunderstood.

    Good intentions are tough because everyone’s so on edge against everything. As much as you may think you could have helped, it’s so easy to have made things worse. Sometimes, as much as it sucks, you’ve got to wait until someone’s about to fall to reach out.

    An excellent point, my friend.

  3. The day I flew to DC for my job interview, I was a complete mess. Everything was moving at such a rapid pace and I sat on the airport shuttle with tear running down my face (sadly, my over sized Hollywood sunglasses weren’t very helpful). A woman sitting across from me got up at her stop, handed me a packet of tissues, patted my knee and left. Her kindness made me cry even harder. Score 1 for the stranger.

    Then last week, I was standing at the bus stop (wearing the aforementioned glasses) and once again I was crying. Completely different situation… the boyfriend definitively broke up with me and i was trying to get a grip. Thankfully, no one said anything. On the way home, however, there was a different story. The woman sitting in front of me turned around and loudly said, “Are you still upset from this morning? Is it about a guy?” Four people put down their newspapers and looked at me. I was mortified.

    You never know what sort of an effect you’ll have on someone. Bottom line: Don’t beat yourself up but in the future if you feel a prompting, act on it.

    Yep, that’s definitely the course I was leaning toward as I walked away from her, and the more I hear from you guys the more I think it’s the right thing to do.

    Although I don’t think I would have tagged on the “is it about a guy?” Hmm.

  4. My policy is to always be friendly and helpful. I expect my kids to live by the Golden Rule, so I have to lead by example. I’d rather someone turn down my offer of assistance than regret not making the offer. Of course, I don’t push it on them. Rather, I just try a friendly smile, say hello and see if I get any acknowledgement. If I’m not ignored and they don’t seem very guarded, I might ask if there’s anything I can do to help. And I never take it personally if my offer is turned down. I can move on knowing that I did the right thing.

    I worry more about the dynamic since I’m a guy, and while I probably worry way too much about it I think that has some slight basis in reality.

    Nevertheless, I’m more and more convinced that I made a mistake yesterday that I will endeavor not to repeat.

  5. I think it’s really a culture difference between the lower 48 and Alaska. Down here, everyone minds their business, no one stops to help a stranger struggling with a heavy item and no one would dream of stopping to help someone stranded at the side of the road.

    In Alaska, we do things different. In fact, it’s like stepping back in time 50-60 years. If you break down, at least 5 people will stop and offer to help you. If you’re carrying something heavy or bulky, a complete stranger will give you a hand. And there’s more of an open community feel.

    It was so hard for Dude to learn and understand “Stranger Danger” when we moved down here. It was a completely foreign concept to him. Part of me feels bad that he even ever had to learn that concept.

    It really is a sad commentary on our society.

  6. Oh, and we pick up hitchhikers in Alaska too. It’s safe to do so. In fact, there are times it could be a matter of life and death, their life or death, if you don’t!

  7. Every time I’ve acted on this impulse, I’ve regretted it. The stranger usually reacts in a totally unpredictable way and I feel horrible for months or years afterward. So I’ve started ignoring this impulse, largely. And trying not to feel bad about it.

    I hear ya. This person didn’t have that crazy look about her, though, just like a regular person in distress. But I HAVE learned that sometimes crazy comes in clever disguises. So your point is a good one.

  8. I don’t think solace from a stranger is inherently creepy or strange. Sometimes it’s just the thing that you need…it shows that there are people with good and caring hearts out there…and you’re not likely to see them again, so you don’t have to worry about being embarrassed that someone saw you at a weak moment.

    Yep. Lesson learned.

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