It was a troubling scene: an elderly man, crawling on all fours down a frozen sidewalk, his glasses hanging off his face, clearly injured and disoriented, unable to stand up.
But what bothered me even more as I drove downtown late Monday evening on my way home from the gym was how many people simply passed by the senior without stopping.
I watched as numerous cars slowed briefly, the drivers seemingly taking a quick look before going on their way.
Being in the opposite lane of traffic, I pulled a U-turn as soon as I could and returned to the scene on Ellice Avenue, stopping in a nearby parking lot.
I jumped out of my still running car and went over to the man. It took all my strength to lift him up and sit him down on a bench. Several pedestrians and even a cyclist passed by me as I struggled to get him upright.
I wondered what could have brought him out into the cold, dark night. Then I saw the plastic bag he'd dropped, carrying two one-litre bottles of beer he'd just picked up from the nearby liquour store.
I could smell booze on his breath as he complained of knee pain. He told me he'd broken his back in the summer. He told me he was "lonely" and had gone to pick up some beer to carry him through the night, figuring he could handle the lengthy walk.
I asked how long he'd been on the ground, how many people had failed to stop.
He couldn't answer either question, saying he didn't even remember falling. He was shivering, despite wearing a parka, toque and mitts.
I told him I wanted to call an ambulance so he could get checked out. He pleaded with me not to, saying he lives at home alone with a cat and couldn't abandon his pet by going to hospital. He said he'd be on his way and walk to his apartment, which was still several blocks away.
I admired his loyalty and struck a compromise. It was apparent nothing was broken and he didn't have any head trauma. It was also clear he was going to have trouble making it home, as the sidewalks were slippery, his knees were weak and the alcohol had clearly taken hold.
So I told him to get in my car and I'd drive him. He kept telling me that he didn't want to put me out. I insisted it wasn't a problem.
During our short drive I asked a bit about his background. Turns out he's 71, and an adult son who's supposed to be helping care for him "keeps running away" from him. He said a friend was supposed to come with him for beer but then never showed up.
We got to his block, and I helped him out of the car, into the foyer and slowly up three flights of stairs into his suite, where his cat was there to greet us.
He kept repeating to me how thankful he was. He asked me "how much do I owe you?" Then he gave me a huge bearhug when I told him the knowledge he got home safe was more than enough.
And that's my whole point here.
I didn't do anything special. I don't write this as a means of giving myself a public pat on the back. Not at all.
Instead, I find it deeply troubling that a simple act of human kindness strikes me as being so out of the ordinary these days.
If I hadn't come along when I did and stopped, would someone else have? Probably, but when? And what condition would he have been in by then?
I saw many others simply carry on, apparently unwilling to get out of their warm cars to help a downed stranger on a cold night.
Did they think he was just some drunk not worthy of their time? Were they afraid this might be some set-up that would end with them being jumped and robbed?
Maybe. But whatever the reason, it just seems that today, more than ever, people are so immersed in their own busy lives that they're often oblivious to the world going on around them.
Whether it's passengers on an Edmonton transit bus doing nothing as a man is beaten to death or dozens of people ignoring an elderly hit-and-run victim in Pennsylvania as he crawls down a busy street, I just don't understand.
I can't help but notice the sad parallels in what happened Monday night.
This injured man was willing to ignore his own pain and insisted on going home for the sake of his cat, who he didn't want to abandon.
It's too bad those who passed by him Monday night couldn't show him the same kind of loyalty as he lay on that cold sidewalk.
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