Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fighter or Flighter?

A couple of Saturdays ago, I took my daughters on a walk through Central Park. They like to zip along on their scooters, and I’m always afraid they are going to inadvertently knock down an old lady, so I steered them to a track that runs around some empty basketball courts.

They were racing along and laughing when I heard someone shout out of nowhere, “GET YOUR KIDS OUT OF HERE! GET OUT! GET OUT!” and on and on. A man stood up, wild-eyed, dirty, and obviously crazy. He ranted about 9/11, the police, aliens, and God knows what else.

I can be a bit of a bitch sometimes and my first instinct was to shout back at him—who was he to be ordering people around?!--but since my kids were with me, we just ignored him and moved along. Swiftly. Much safer that way.

“Why was he yelling at us?” my daughters asked. I opened my mouth to tell them that he was crazy, that he had no right to scream those things, to forget all about him.

But then I remembered how I harp on them about being compassionate. Hadn’t I just lectured them about considering other people’s feelings? I guess that’s easy enough for me to say.

So instead I talked to them about what that man’s life must be like. He was obviously in need of help. What happens to people when they lack the skills to take care of themselves even in the most basic ways and they have no family for support? New York City offers services for the homeless, (in fact, in NYC, everyone has a *right* to housing) but they can’t MAKE anyone go to a shelter. If we called the police, that guy probably would just end up in jail.

I assured them that they weren’t doing anything wrong, but that in addition to feeling compassion for others, it’s also important to judge when to get the heck out of dodge.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that guy a lot lately. Especially now that it’s getting cold.


Janna Leadbetter said...

Such a moving story that makes me so sad. You're right to show some compassion for the guy; who knows what he's been through? On the other hand, I'm really glad he was far enough away from you that yelling was all he did. I hope he'll find his way to some help.

colbymarshall said...

Man, I don't know what to think about that. I guess it's important to always remember you have no idea what's weighing on someone, but like you, I agree it's equally important to know when to run like hell.

WendyCinNYC said...

Janna and Colby--
Yes, I do agree that self-preservation trumps all. Especially when you're with two little kids.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

I probably would've reacted exactly the same way. My instinct it to yell back but I don't want anyone chasing me because now I've "proven" that I'm a beeyotch.

Joanne said...

It is sad, and frightening, esp for your children. I guess in addition to compassion, it's a sad reminder to be aware, and do as you did, remove yourself from the situation.

Anonymous said...

It's hard sometimes...Glad you could talk to them about it.

Spy Scribbler said...

A right to housing? Seriously? That's amazing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Wendy