Yesterday I saw someone hurt themselves, and I did absolutely nothing.
On my way to the stairs, I passed an electrician fiddling with something in the wall, standing halfway up a ladder. Another electrician stood next to him, fiddling with some sort of legit-looking handheld-device. I did that closed-mouth-smile to say hello, where you’re acknowledging the other person exists, but that you are strangers. For a while, in my younger years, I experimented with a big toothy smile to greet passersby. This largely resulted in confused, awkward smiles back. My theory is that people see teeth, and feel that this over-familiar display must mean you must already know them. My advice: unless you want to spend your life watching people frown at you while they study your facial features, keep your chompers to yourself.
I reached the top of the stairs and heard a crash. Pausing, I saw that the wall-fiddler had fallen off the side of the ladder to the ground, and the device-fiddler was standing over him asking if he was ok.
And I kept walking.
This is horrible, right? I bet you’re scrunching up your nose, wondering what kind of heartless person is writing this, assuming I don’t even recycle. Full disclosure, I usually do, but if it’s something really really mucky and the time it will take to wash it and dry it and walk all the way to the garage to put it in the bag outweighs the time I have before Shortland Street comes back on, sometimes it ends up in the bin.
This isn’t a laziness thing, I swear it. On most days I walk for miles, literal miles, listening to podcasts and getting angry at people for texting. Scooting down a flight of stairs to save someone’s life would be no problem. As I hovered at the top of the stairs deciding what to do, the question was not “can I be bothered?”, but “where on the danger spectrum is this?”
At one end of the spectrum we have something like a proper serious car crash. Horrible. Stop your vehicle, get out, help people, hopefully have a working cellphone or first aid training so you don’t just stand there like an idiot saying, “I don’t think the car is supposed to be on fire?”
At the other end of the spectrum we have something like walking in on your roommate engaging in some weird solo sex practice you didn’t think people actually did in real life. Sure, it’s a little dangerous, because that rope looks like it might be cutting into the skin. But it’s definitely not something he needs your help with. The only approach is to avoid eye contact and leave immediately, pretending you didn’t even notice.
Many years back, I was riding my bike home with my friend Hayley after school. Chatting about Leonardo DiCaprio and the new Friends episode, we were distracted, and she rode her bike into the back of a parked car. She flew over the handlebars, into the road, skidding across gravel. I was horrified, and leapt off my bike to help. I didn’t know first aid, and what if she had internal bleeding? Broken bones? A fractured spine? She looked up me with a horrified expression, and I assumed the worst. Then she meekly asked, “did you see my undies?”
Since then, every time I see an accident happen, I immediately assess it for where it sits in the danger spectrum between “helping the car crash victim” and “pretending you didn’t see your friend’s bits, out of empathetic embarrassment”.
Yesterday, as the wall-fiddler lay on the ground, and I hovered on the top step, a pair of pale blue knickers flashed in my mind’s eye.
And I kept walking.