We have choices every day. And these choices and moments define who we are. Sometimes even who we HOPE (or know deep down) we are capable of being. For me, that means making decisions that require bravery and kindness and decency. It may look different for you.
If you see something, do something.*
There is already too much hate, fear, and divisiveness in this world right now. I’m inviting all of us to find the opportunities where we can connect, support, or stand up for someone or something. Even when it’s hard, or inconvenient, or uncomfortable.
I was leaving an appointment recently, when I saw an African American woman on the street corner, talking with two white, male cops. She had her 1-year old child with her, who was sitting on the sidewalk playing with a brightly colored plastic piano keyboard. She also had two car seats propped up on the sidewalk. The mom was visibly upset, and on the phone, while these two police officers spoke with her. It was clear to me she wasn’t in the process of being arrested, and had more likely been involved in a car accident.
I took in the scene and paused. Several contradictory, conflicting thoughts came to my mind.
“She looks like she needs help.”
“She probably doesn’t want you in her business, Maggie.”
“The police are there to help, and probably have it handled.”
“Black people are often targeted or harassed or even killed by the police.”
Then of course I had thoughts that were fear-based, justified as “propriety”, or what you might call “decorum”, which is defined as “behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety”.
“You shouldn’t interrupt them. They are in the middle of a conversation.”
You will get in trouble with the cops for intervening.”
“This is none of your business. She’s a capable adult who probably doesn’t want ‘white savior charity’ from a stranger.”
There’s decorum, but what about decency: what I value as my own standards of morality or respectability?
I paused, checked my phone, looked over at my car. I was hovering, which felt uncomfortable. But still I lingered.
I had a choice then – keep walking or do something. She was clearly in duress. Had probably been in a car accident. At that very moment, I had the time and resources to potentially help. At many moments of my life (especially since becoming a mom), I haven’t had the capacity to offer help. I was simply surviving, myself.
I could at least ask her if she was okay or offer to give her a ride somewhere.
And she was a mom. I don’t care what color you are, or how young or old you are, rich or poor. If you are a mom, you’ve known struggle. You’ve been up against it. You’ve felt you don’t ever have enough time, resources, or capacity.
Life can swallow you up as a mom.
Motherhood can leave you feeling like you are falling short in every area of your life.
This realization made my decision (and values) clear. I walked over and interrupted their discussion, by speaking to her directly (not the cops). I asked if she needed any help. I asked her if she was ok. I asked her if she needed a ride (she told me she had someone coming to get them). I told her I could at least sit with her child while she made phone calls and talked with the police.
Her child was so peaceful. She was doing just fine. But the woman was visibly shaken, and holding it all together at the same time. This mother needed attention. So, I gave it to her.
The police left, and I asked if they were helpful. She told me they were incredibly understanding and didn’t ticket her for driving with an expired license. She had been on her way to take her test, when another car t-boned her in the intersection. In that moment, these Portland police officers also chose their own human decency over decorum or rules and bureaucracy.
After several moments of standing together, I asked the woman if she needed a hug. She immediately put her long, thin arms around me and cried into my shoulder. I cried too, and told her she was a good mom, and she was doing great.
I’m not sharing this to say, “look at me, I’m so awesome.” In fact, I think I was a bit of a coward at first; I was very tempted to put my head down and keep walking.
I’m sharing the story to say, we can make a difference in micro ways on a local level, to counter all the disheartening, macro news we hear each day that disconnects and divides us. We can find unexpected connection. Which we all need. I truly got more than I gave in that moment.
To quote Country Singer, Luke Bryan, “I believe most people are good.”
And I believe most people, as individuals, are decent.
Take chances and show strangers your brand of decency.
If you see something, do something (kind). You might be rewarded with a hug. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t get enough of those on daily basis.
*yep, I ’m appropriating the ‘terrorist’ / suspicious activity slogan of ‘if you see something, say something’ into something more loving and potentially more helpful.