Orient

We’d been left in the car — a common occurrence twenty-seven years ago — and he’d taken the keys, despite the cold, to run into the post office. From the front seat, I watched a bent old woman amble down the staircase, cross the sidewalk and then slip under a parked car. I smashed my head against the window trying to see what the hell had happened to her. She slid from sight like a sheet of paper.

Though we weren’t allowed to leave the car, we did. We ran out — 10 and 7 — shouting for someone to help and the poor woman was scooted out by two men. She seemed shocked rather than injured. It isn’t heroic to orient yourself in the direction of trouble. To hurry toward someone injured or crying out. In fact, I don’t understand how you can go on, walking, as though you can’t hear suffering. I don’t know how you can watch a child wreck his bike and not check on him. I don’t understand how you can hear a baby cry, and not raise your head to listen. Alert. Watchful.

Civilization doesn’t work if we pretend to be disconnected from one another. If we pretend that your suffering is your own and has nothing whatsoever to do with me. A culture of reluctant witnesses. We were children. We couldn’t have gotten her out from under the car. But that isn’t the point. The point is that we brought help to her. That we kept a contract we didn’t even know existed: even strangers are our neighbors. They matter the same way that we matter. We don’t have the terrible task of determining who will live and who will die. And so we should behave as though we might all be saved. I don’t mean by some divine mercy. I mean by each other.

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