Friday, July 29, 2011

A fellow human being

He is sitting on the floor in the middle of a mezzanine area at the mall when I see him. Backpack on the floor behind him. Elbows resting on knees. Both hands covering his ears.

He is looking down between his legs, head bowed, tucked into his shoulders.

I think for a moment he is on his cellphone. I think he's just sitting there talking.

No one seems to be bothered by him. Or notice his presence. They walk by, skirting him. Avoiding contact.

Thoughts quickly flit through my mind.

"He's okay. I shouldn't disturb him. I don't want to bother him. I'd only embarrass him, and myself, if I stop and ask he's okay."

"I don't think he's on his phone. Yes he is. No. His hands are simply covering his ears. You'd best stop."

"No. Let him be. Give him his privacy."

"There's no privacy sitting in the middle of the floor in a busy mall."

I stop, bend down. I keep my voice soft. Gentle. I touch one of his shoulders as I speak. "Excuse me sir. Are you okay?"

He doesn't move.

"Sir. Are you okay. Do you need help?"

Slowly he looks up at me. He doesn't say anything. He just looks at me.

"Is something wrong? Can I help you?" I ask.

"You tell me," he replies.

"Are you okay? Did you fall down?"

"I don't know," he mumbles.

I look around. People are walking past. No one is looking at us. I look towards the Starbucks kiosk a few feet away.

"Can I get you some water?" I ask him.

He doesn't say anything. He's gone back to holding his head. Staring at the floor.

"Wait here," I tell him. "I'm going to get you a glass of water and call for help."

I go to the Starbucks, ask one of the staff for a glass of water and to call Security. "There's a man sitting on the floor in the middle of the foyer," I tell the girl and I point over to where the man is sitting.

We both look. He is now lying sprawled out on the floor. People keep walking past and no one stops.

"Can you call Security please?" I ask. "He's in some distress." And I go back to the man and sit on the floor and wait for security.

He is unresponsive. Talking in short bursts of incoherent sentences.

I tell him my name. Ask for his.

He looks at me. Suspicious. Leary. He offers his hand. "I'm Trevor."

I take his hand and gently ask. "Have you been drinking Trevor?"

He nods his head. Up and down. "I can drink a lot," he says.

"How much have you had today?" I ask.

He doesn't answer. Shrugs his shoulders.

We sit quietly.

"I don't know what to do," he suddenly says and he starts to cry.

"Are you feeling overwhelmed?" I ask.

And he nods his head again. Up and down. Up and down.

"Breathe," I tell him. "Deep slow breaths."

He gulps in air. He's almost sobbing now.

And people keep walking by.

A security officer from the mall rides up on his bike. Parks it. Walks over to where Trevor and I are still sitting on the floor.

"Did he fall?" he asks me.

"I don't know." I tell him. "I was walking by and saw him sitting here and stopped to ask if he needed help. His name is Trevor."

"Hi Trevor," the security man says in a friendly voice. "What's happening?"

"I don't know," replies Trevor. "I don't know." And he covers his ears with his hands again and looks down at the floor.

The officer is young. Kind. Caring. He too attempts to ask questions. He too gets few answers.

He turns to me. "Anything else you can tell me? Did he fall? Do you know if he hit his head?"

"I don't know," I reply, inadvertently repeating Trevor's response. "He says he's been drinking. He's feeling overwhelmed. He was just sitting here when I came upon him. He is sweating a lot though. And he's not very clear in his speech."

"I've called EMS," says the security man.

And so the hour unfolds. A man. Lost. Frightened. Overwhelmed sits on the floor of a busy mall crying out for help.

"I don't want to fall apart," he says. "I'm so sorry for falling apart."

"It's okay to fall apart Trevor," I reply. "Sometimes, the only thing we can do is to let it fall apart so we can find the pieces we want."

He looks at me. Tears stream down his face. "You're too nice," he sobs. "Don't be so nice."

A police officer arrives. He asks if I'm with the man on the floor. Trevor looks up. "Oh no," he cries quickly. "She's not part of the problem. I am. I'm sorry to be a problem. I am so sorry."

And the police officer quickly reassures Trevor he's not a problem. We're all there just trying to find out how we can help.

EMS arrive. Trevor looks at me. "I don't want to make trouble," he says.

"You're not," I reply. "The lady from EMS just wants to help you. Can you let her?"

And I move away to make room for the EMS worker.

Another officer arrives. Asks if I can fill him in on any details. I tell him what happened.

"So you were just at the mall to shop and happened upon this guy?"


He smiles. "Well. Thanks for helping out. You okay?"

I smile. I don't tell him I work in a place where this kind of thing happens every day. I smile and tell him I'm okay. "I hope Trevor is too."

The officer nods his head. "That's our job," he says and smiles again. "You're job's done here."

"Yes it is," I reply and walk away leaving Trevor and those who could help him to do their job.

Life's like that. We are on a journey, goal, destination in clear sight when something unexpected appears on our path. I had gone to the mall to get a prescription filled at the drug store. I was walking back to my car when I happened upon Trevor sitting on the floor.

I couldn't just walk by and leave him. I had to stand in until help arrived. And maybe, sitting on that floor was the best thing Trevor could do in that moment. Maybe, sitting on the floor is his next step to getting help for whatever it is that is overwhelming him today. Maybe, my stepping in was what he needed to get out of the dark space he was lost in.

"What do you see when you see me?" he asked at one point.

"I see a fellow human being in distress," I replied.

His eyes went wide. "You see me," he whispered and he started to cry and my heart cried with him.


Maureen said...

You underscore so much in this post, especially what it means to be human.

I knew you would stop. I would have, too.

Fi said...

Oh my, you always bring tears to my eyes when I read things like this.

You wrote on my blog 'One of the many things I admire about you is your common sense. You make sense!'

Right back at you my friend - you are one of the most beautiful and heartwarming people that I have ever had the opportunity to know and I wish more people could actually care like you do.

Too many people would walk on by and ignore Trevor when sometimes all someone in pain needs, is someone to simply care.

Anonymous said...


you, in everything you do or write about, TEACH

you teach people, one at a time, to SEE



you did yesterday; you taught the Starbucks barrista, the security guard, the paramedic and the cop that you SEE, and now ... perhaps they SEE too.



Bev Pettigrew said...

Dear Louise: I was just out looking at my weed garden where a humungous Canada thistle lives. There I witnessed a bee and a beautiful butterfly both carefree enjoying life, sustaining the longevity of another species. I thought of your blog today. I think you are so much like the beautiful butterfly, not looking at the thorns of the plant but finding the soft vulnerable spot of another human being. When you are sick and off the job, you never stop offering the kindness of a gentle touch and words of encouragement that are so much the person we got to know not so long ago.What was truly amazing was the gentle non-judgemental reaction of those around you who had the power to sting like a bee, but fed off your sweetness and made a difference in those less fortunate.You are infectious!!Thanks for being you. Bev

Anonymous said...

Well said Bev, Louise is infectious, with her kind caring heart!

Louise Gallagher said...

So... you people are very kind and infectious too!

I believe that to 'see' kindness we need to believe and know what it is...

and you all do!


S. Etole said...

Thank you for your caring, seeing heart.

Anonymous said...

your experience was even met with questions in your mind...and you looked past the questions and saw the man.

Ruth said...

Oh, Louise. I appreciate this more than I can say. Of course the action you took is wonderful. But more than that, sharing the conversation between you, Trevor and the security person is so very helpful. You've given me tools of communication for when I come upon a Trevor, or even if I am the one who falls apart. The ability to see someone as a person, so powerfully revealed at the end of your post, is simple, yet we fear so much, and that gets in the way. Perhaps many who walked by Trevor wanted to do something, but they had no idea what to do or say. You showed him respect, and that's the most important thing. As you shared, at first you wondered if just by talking to him he would feel embarrassed. But he was sitting in the middle of the floor! Something in him was pleading for help.

I feel so enlightened by this. Thank you.

Louise Gallagher said...

So true Ruth. Sitting in the middle of the floor was his cry for help. And, because we are often unsure of what to do or say, we worry about 'a scene', or that we're wrong and maybe they're okay and convince ourselves to keep walking by that people continue to fall.

I'm going to start a "Don't Walk By" movement! :)

It's time to stop and get involved.


Louise Gallagher said...

Thanks Susan.

Nance -- I think those questions always exist. I'm teaching myself how to walk through them into connecting, even when the questions would keep me on the periphery.


faerian said...

thank you for seeing this good man who took a wrong turn and for listening and allowing your goodness to reach out to him <3 you made the world a better place and light something in my heart as well as his