It was a typical afternoon; nothing too exciting. I was in college and had just finished attending a few classes in the morning. I had been fighting to stay awake and was looking forward to getting home for a quick lunch, then off to work. Everything seemed like an ordinary day as I was thinking of a million things in my head walking towards my car in the school parking lot. It wasn’t quite lunchtime yet and most classes were still in session, so the parking lot was quiet. I was walking down my row, and I saw it all happen. It was like in slow motion, yet at the same time, it happened so quickly.
She was about 75 yards away, 3/4 of a football field. It looked obvious that today was a big day for her. She wore a pretty, silky dress and high heels. Her hair was long and curled, almost like she just walked out of a salon. She had just gotten out of her car, gathered all her things including her purse and her backpack. She also carried in front of her, with both hands, a couple of books and some loose paper stacks. There really wasn’t much more to observe at this point, so I looked away….then it happened. Wow! Did it happen. There was a loud THUD! No scream, no yelling, no crying, no audible sound at all came out of her mouth. It was like she wanted to hide what was actually happening. But it happened. She tripped and fell.
She didn’t just fall, but she fell HARD. Not just HARD, but on her FACE HARD! She fell so fast and so hard that the papers she was carrying hadn’t even hit the ground yet. They were still slowly floating through the air, down to the ground, just like in those cartoon scenes. She got up quickly and dusted herself off. She knelt back down to start picking up her things. I was now faced with a decision. It was a decision I was not prepared for. In fact, I’ve never run through this scenario before in my head to prepare me for what to do next. Do I run over to her? Do I help gather her stuff and say something to ease her shock and embarrassment? Maybe something like, “Oh My God! Are you okay?” Then I would say something like, “don’t worry, no one saw you but me, and I promise I won’t tell anyone.” This could cause her to smile a bit and be a little bit thankful that I offered to help….that she wasn’t alone in this world. Then she would smile back at me and say something like, “Wow, that was crazy. Thanks.” And proceed to walk to her class. And I would get back in my car and drive home, have my lunch and go to work. But instead, I did nothing.
I didn’t do anything. I didn’t say anything. My initial thought was that she would be too embarrassed to face or talk to anyone. The situation would be better off if she knew I didn’t see her…if she thought she was the only one that was there. So I pretended that I didn’t see her. I pretended that it never happened. I pretended that it never happened 20+ years ago in that parking lot. I don’t know why I still remember that moment, in detail, and I don’t know why it still haunts me to this day that I made the wrong decision.
Maybe it’s what happened after. She passed me, and I looked over to give her a friendly smile. I’ll never forget her face. She looked frazzled; her long curled hair looked messy. It looked like she just came out of a fight, not a salon. She looked over at me only with her eyes, and she gave me back a small “so called” smile which was barely noticeable as she hurried forward. What was noticeable to me along with her tiny smile was a tear drop that ran down her cheek.
Why didn’t I run over to help her? I’ve learned since then to error in the way of compassion. When I find myself in a situation where a quick decision needs to be made, I chose to push through the “fear” barrier and the “unknown” barrier and even the “lazy” barrier and try to just…help. I want to take a risk to reach out my hand even though I might think they just want to be invisible…because if I don’t, I’ll never see the tear running down her cheek. I will only know if I chose to get closer, engaged and walk side by side.
Some remain invisible today that do not want to be. Some remain in silence struggling through life alone. Some have fallen hard on their face and need help getting up. I don’t want to be afraid to ignore the invisible, the silent and the fallen.