It’s rarely ever like it is in the movies. You don’t need to push someone out of the way of an oncoming train and you don’t need to take a bullet. You don’t have to fight someone off and you don’t have to run into a burning building…life and limb need not be risked. It’s rarely ever like the movies; it doesn’t just stand out in plain sight. Sometimes you just have to pay attention. You never really know when someone is on their last legs unless you really pay attention. You can see it in their eyes if you look hard enough. You can hear it in their voice if you listen closely enough.
You can find it in their writing if you simply open your eyes.
Once upon a time there was a nerdy high school kid who was ridiculed daily by his classmates. He was teased, spit on and beaten up so often it had become ritual…almost normal, to the young man. Normal however, is not to be confused with tolerable. His classmates were brutally successful in making him feel inhuman and robbing him of his will to live. The young man had decided that after school he would walk home, write a note and promptly shoot himself in the head.
“This is it,” he thought to himself as the school’s heavy steel doors slammed shut behind him.
For the first time in his life the young man walked unflinchingly past his classmates and their jeers, they passed through him. He hugged his textbooks tightly to his chest and quickened his pace as the football players laughed like apes.
“Look at that fag,” they sneered to one another.
“They won’t think of me the same tomorrow,” the young man mumbled to himself as he stared at the passing squares of pavement on the cracked sidewalk. His eyes were dry, his heart beat as it had for his seventeen short years. Seventeen years of this misery, he could stand no more.
His pace quickened.
The plodding of his Chuck Taylors on the pavement played soundtrack to the last thoughts the young man would ever think. He thought about trivial things: school work left unfinished, video games left to beat, letters left unwritten. Everything so utterly incomplete and devoid of his touch, tonight he would leave this place. Maybe it was his pain, maybe it was his desire to teach the footballers a lesson or maybe it was his own sick way of finally becoming someone people would talk about.
Maybe it was a lot of things.
One by one the kids walking in his vicinity disappeared into their houses until the young man finally walked alone. Thoughts washed over him and out into the crisp fall air. In the clumsiness of his trance, when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse, the young man tripped on a cracked corner in the sidewalk and fell to his knees, his books scattering before him.
“I’ll be dead in a few minutes, why bother with the books,” he thought, but as the last words of the sentence left his consciousness, he felt someone next to him.
“Sup bro, need a hand?”
The stranger had dark stringy hair and smelled of cigarettes, he was not much older than the young man. He collected the books and looked at the young man’s skinned knees before helping him to his feet and handing him the bundle.
“Watch where you’re walking next time my man, that bail looked painful,” he said as a grin crept onto his face.
“I’m Jim,” said the stranger as he extended his hand.
The young man looked perplexed as he reached to shake the stranger’s hand,
“Nice to meet you.”
They talked for a minute before going their separate ways, and as the young man turned to head home tears ran down his cheeks. He wondered what had just happened or more importantly, why. Thoughts continued to flood his mind, but their nature had changed, he questioned his course of action. But he thought to himself how hard it was still going to be, nothing had changed…maybe his decision was sound after all.
He slid the key into the lock in his front door, walking upstairs and setting his books on his desk before sitting down. He pulled the top drawer of his desk open, pulling out the pen he would use to complete his task. He thought to himself for a moment before he started writing. He placed the date in the upper right hand corner before titling the paper, “The Theory of Keynesian Economics.”
He thought about how he was planning on writing something vastly different. Only a few moments ago he had the letter completely finished in his head, it only needed to be committed to paper. Now it seemed he couldn’t even remember the first word, what he was going to say or who it was going to be addressed to. He thought about Jim, about the few words they shared and he realized something very simple but incredibly profound.
“That man saved my life.”
So think about that.
Think about that before you look away from someone crying softly to themselves on the bus or in the subway. Think about that before you brush past the woman who just spilled her purse. Think about that the next time you get the feeling that the man or woman you just saw is hurting. You don’t have to take a bullet, you don’t have to stop a train and you don’t have to risk your life.
Spare a kind word, a gesture, a helping hand or maybe just a smile, for you never know when you might be saving someone’s life.