All around the little courtyard park where he lay, there were rows of townhouses, but no one was about. It was well before dinner hour and I had happened by only on chance, while looking to meet up with my husband.
It was freezing cold and a light rain was falling. Could he be sleeping? No. Surely, no one in his right mind would choose to sleep on the wet grass in the rain.
I stopped walking, stood still for a second and watched to see if the old man's chest might rise and fall with the measured breath of slumber. I could see none, but then, perhaps I was just too far away. Too much of a coward to approach him myself, I rushed off to the spot where I knew I could find my husband.
A few minutes later, my husband was standing over him, "Are you okay, sir?" I heard him ask. The man opened his eyes (I sighed with relief!) and mumbled a slurred response.
"Can I call someone to come help you?", my husband asked. I heard the old man muttered something nonsensical. Then he mumbled something about a daughter. He tired to sit up, wobbled wildly and fell back hard on the wet grass. My husband noticed there was a beer can at his side. Mystery solved. The man was simply fall down drunk.
Though his problems were self-inflicted, we could not in all good consciousness leave him there lying in the cold. Alcohol thins the blood and can make a person, especially a man in his early sixties, more susceptible to hypothermia. It seemed clear enough to us that this was a man who needed some sort of help.
This brings me the point of my story: when faced with a complete stranger, it is not always easy to tell when to step up and offer assistance. It can feel akward and even uncomfortable to step into another person's private problems.Let me tell you another story. This time I will put you in the driver's seat.
There is a dog, a white, mop-head of a dog. He is a harmless, goodnatured, goofy dog who you have noticed sitting out at all hours of the day and night, in every kind of weather, in an outdoor pen. In the summers, the grass is uncut and a water dish seems absent even on the hottest days. In winters, his ramshackle dog house is stuffed with straw. Mostly you notice that he prefers to sit outside shivering in deep snow. What is most distressing, is the fact that a rash has begun to spread across his rump.
Then one day you find him loose running wildly through the neighbourhood, giddy in his excitement to be free of the pen. You might feel glad for him except you see that he is covered in his own green excrement.
Are you ready to call in the authorities?
Get ready of the complication.
You don't know his owner, but you have heard tell of her drinking problem from a close friend. There is a lot of sadness in her life, because it has been recently discovered that her husband is dying of cancer. The most recent operation has left him barely able to stand. As this man's health has deteriorated, their small business has begun to falter.
How do you help the poor dog? It is gut wrenchingly hard isn't it? Knowing when and how to step in is not easy.
I know this post is getting really long. Just one last story! This one is both sad and true.
But first, let me set the scene for this story. Along the banks of the Credit River there is a chain of valleys, I live in one of them.
The valley to the south of us is in my estimation the most beautiful. Unlike the more northern valleys, it is a broad plain that sits low on the water table.
In summer it is lush and green.
In fall, the valley is filled with ochres, reds and orange.
In winter, its beauty is more haunting.
This valley was also the sight of a local murder.
If you are a mother, I am sure you will be able to identify with this terrible story. Again, I am going to put you into the story:
You are in the middle of a weekend shopping trip to the mall when your daughter asks to use the washroom. The problem is that you have your 9 year old son in tow and he is refusing to be seen in the women's washroom at his age (this story occurred 10 or more years ago before family washrooms became common).
You understand of course. He's growing up so fast. Maybe you even experience a brief moment of pride at the thought.
Moments later your son is abducted from the hallway by a man recently released from prison. People witness the abduction: it's popular mall. But here is the part of the story that especially breaks my heart: no one steps forward and no one intercedes. It is not that they are heartless or don't want to get involved. Most witnesses see a boy struggling with a man, but fail to recognize the situation for what it is. Instead they see a misbehaving child and decide the man is most likely his father.
The abductor brought the young boy to the picturesque river valley assaulted and murdered him. Then the deeply disturbed man turned himself into police.
This true story haunts me a little. I have a son who is about the same age as the boy who was murdered and we often shopped at that very same mall. I pass by the valley where the terrible deed was done at least a few times a week.
How I feel for that poor woman who left her son on his own for just a brief moment! As a mother, I find myself wishing someone had stepped forward, even though I know that confronting and questioning the actions of a seriously disturbed man was a potentially dangerous thing to do.
But then, aren't most mothers willing to through themselves in harms way for the sake of their children?
So what happened to the man we left lying in the grass a few paragraphs back? We stayed with him until police arrived to handle the situation.
And the neglected dog? That was another true story, and as you may have guessed, it could not possibly have end well. One of my neighbours tried to help out with the care of the dog, but she could only do so much. I took action the day I found him roaming loose covered in excrement and soars. With a heavy heart, I called the SPCA. I begged them to use compassion with the woman whose husband was so seriously ill. I told them that I hoped a new or temporary home could be found for the dog during the ongoing health crisis.
I am not sure anything like that happened. I was walking our dogs when the angry dog owner confronted me in a drunken rage a couple of weeks later. The only good thing to come out of this story is that the poor, neglected dog did go to a new home.
I worry I could have handled the situation better, but I am still glad that I interceded.