12 October 2011 ~ 4 Comments

The Courage of Our Convictions (of good Samaritans, baby bunnies, barnacles and birds)

Today, I’m going to write about the courage of our convictions. It’s often difficult knowing the right thing to do, but it can be even more difficult actually acting on this. This article was inspired by something very sad that happened to Corey and me on the day before my birthday. We were driving back home when we stopped at a red light. Suddenly, we spied a baby bunny on the sidewalk. For a few seconds, I was confused and perplexed, but then I shot out of the car. By this time, the bunny had already put himself in danger because, in his sheer panic, he had run into the road right in front of all the cars. I was actually a bit scared to pick up the rabbit, not knowing exactly what to expect, someone mentioned he was very sick and the thought shot through my head that I could infect myself with something (although from what I know there is nothing that rabbits can pass to humans, but I wasn’t thinking straight) and I was also shit scared that the little one would take a nasty bite out of my hand.

Be that as it may, I knew I couldn’t possibly not rescue him. When I adopted a baby bunny named Filou (who has since passed on to the “big carrot fields in the sky”), I always wondered at how silent they are, although they will let out the occasional squeak, so I was certainly not prepared for the sound that this little one emitted – what I can only describe as a scream of terror. Then again, it is certainly understandable why he (I don’t know why I think he was a he, but I just got that feeling) would be petrified. Passers-by just stood around stupefied, staring at the bunny running in circles, dragging his injured leg behind him. They told me he was horribly ill and thanked me for trying to rescue him. Out of sheer uncertainty, they were literally frozen to the spot. Some jerk even dared to honk his horn at me running out to rescue the rabbit, but perhaps he didn’t see what was going on.

The bunny let me pick him up just fine – sometimes I think animals sense when we are there to help them and his little heart beat calmly, which I deemed to be because of what I just mentioned, but someone else astutely remarked that it could well have been an indication of how sick he was. We took him right away to a nearby veterinary clinic. At that point, it was evident he had been hit by a car, but what I didn’t realize is that he had myxomatosis, a manmade illness originally designed to cull rabbits and ultimately more often than not a death sentence for these lovable creatures.

At the veterinary clinic, I noticed a lot of compassion from the other customers who were of course also animal lovers. One lady kindly let me go in front of her as it was evident how much this little one was suffering. Until then, I still had hope that he would live to see another day and that they could maybe fix his leg, but when they told me he had myxomatosis, I knew that would most likely be lethal. They euthanized him and in my heart I know there is probably little else they could have done, but I almost felt a sense of guilt for bringing him to his death.

Another time, as a teenager, I had a similar experience when walking home from school. I saw two baby birds in the gutter who had obviously been hit by a car. I rushed home as fast as my feet would carry me and my father and I drove back with a box to help one of them – unfortunately, we were unable to help his little companion who had already perished. We kept the bird as comfortable as possible and gave him some water. Then dad took him to the vet where sadly he had to be put down. I remember before he left (I couldn’t face watching the bird being euthanized), the little bird chirped one last time as if to say thank you. In both instances, I would obviously have liked these animals to live, but it is always important to try and in such cases death may be preferable to their short lifetime of misery.

Some years ago, I was sitting at my desk and received a phone call from a very frightened lady. She had obviously got the wrong number and was in a panic because she was trying to report the fact that she was being beaten. I did my best to calm her down and got her to tell me what was going on. I promised to call the women’s shelter and I did, but to my disgust they told me there was nothing they could do as she didn’t report it personally. I tried to reason with them and requested that they please check it out. I will never know if they actually did, but I know I did the right thing and, again, at least I tried.

I could have just hung up the phone and not dealt with what many people might see as a hassle. Why help a stranger whom you have never even met in person? What do I get out of that? Well, the answer for some is: a lot. Knowing that you have done the right thing and at times being able to successfully help people is a fulfilling confirmation that you are on the right track. We can’t help everyone and it’s important to come to this realisation – often it’s about showing them how to help themselves. Another important realisation is that we can only do as much as we feel able to and we shouldn’t overburden ourselves, but I don’t feel happy standing by and watching others suffer. It was like that at school too – whilst I was terribly bullied, I wasn’t happy to go along with the crowd and bully others in my position just in an effort to fit in. Many kids at school follow others like sheep as they are afraid to rebel. Rebellion, revolt, revolution, resistance. Throughout history, many have chosen the path of least resistance because that’s just the easier option, but was it always the right one?

Another reason I see to help others – whoever they may be – is that I truly believe there is some kind of karma and what goes around comes around. There have been times when others have helped me and in some of these cases there have also been those who just stood by and indolently watched the situation unfold. The most recent case was when I cut my foot on barnacles while on holiday in Bermuda and a couple staying in the same guest house rushed to help us. The wife found some hydrogen peroxide and bathed my foot in it and the husband barbecued our food along with his own while Corey helped his wife to help me. At the time, we didn’t know them very well, but I was very touched by their kindness to us. Subsequently, we became friends and we also invited them to our wedding.

I’m always unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised when someone we don’t know helps us because this seems to be something that is an increasingly unusual occurrence, would that it were not so! Considering why this might be the case, I come to realise that there is sometimes a certain stigma attached to helping others. Some people prefer to appear tough and distanced and not “make a scene” by rushing to help others because they might feel self-conscious. They also don’t want to be dubbed as weak. I’ve been reading about the parable of the Good Samaritan because all of this reminds me of it somewhat and I came across this verse by Australian poet Henry Lawson:

“He’s been a fool, perhaps, and would
Have prospered had he tried,
But he was one who never could
Pass by the other side.
An honest man whom men called soft,
While laughing in their sleeves —
No doubt in business ways he oft
Had fallen amongst thieves”.

I guess this tells us that we have all been in these situations and so treating others as we would like to be treated makes a lot of sense. It also takes bravery and guts to help others – we are often afraid that we might suffer a misfortune ourselves – the Wikipedia article on the parable talks about how others may have passed by on the other side because they were afraid the thieves were still lying in wait to attack others or even that the injured man might be acting as a decoy or bate on what was back then a rather treacherous road. And then there is the stigma attached to helping someone who is essentially considered an outcast (at that time, the Samaritans were by the Jews). Talking of outcasts, those of us who are sick are at times also considered outcasts. I sometimes think that the suffering we go through as a result of our illness makes us more sensitive and empathic to the plight of others, particularly the underdogs.

To quote another example, during World War II various people took the Jews into their homes and hid them from the Nazis. As a result, they put their own lives at risk, but they perhaps couldn’t have lived with themselves had they not offered their help to those so desperately in need. At this time, there were also German resistance groups such as the White Rose, who fought against the Nazis. We always remember that there were those Germans who went along with the regime (largely because you risked death if you didn’t), but we often forget those who had the courage to stand up and say “no”. If we look back over a century, there was Harriet Tubman who helped many slaves to freedom with her Underground Railroad. These days, we revere such heroes and heroines, but at the time they weren’t always greeted with admiration. Standing up against others and telling them that what they are doing is wrong is no mean feat.

The principle of helping a stranger has provided inspiration for various cultural creations. One of these is the film Pay It Forward, which involves a little boy who sets up a project where three people have to help three other people in return for the help they have already received from others. The Clay Walker country song “Chain of Love” is another inspiring example of how what goes around often comes around – but in this case in a positive sense (I urge you to read the lyrics of what is a very beautiful and moving story).

Last but by no means least, I’d like to mention Johnny Barnes, an inspiring man I waved to from our car in Bermuda when we were on the way to the emergency room because Corey had bronchitis (it seems that’s where the locals tend to go for medical care whether it’s an emergency or not). Retired bus driver, Johnny Barnes, is quite the local celebrity – since 1986, he has been dedicating five hours of every weekday morning to cheerfully wish each Bermudian good morning as they drive past on their way to work. And cheerful he was – he gave me a huge grin! I hope that when we renew our vows on the island next October, we may have the opportunity to shake his hand.

To sum up, let’s consider all these cases and how they relate to us when we witness something we know to be wrong. Perhaps we should take a step back and consider what it is that is preventing us from taking action: be it fear of persecution, fear of making a mistake, shock, uncertainty, fear of ostracism, fear of physical harm, inconvenience … whatever it is, facing up to our fears and recognising the reason why we are being held back will empower us and enable us to break through these barriers so that we are in fact capable of helping our neighbours.

4 Responses to “The Courage of Our Convictions (of good Samaritans, baby bunnies, barnacles and birds)”

  1. Geoff Downing 12 October 2011 at 5:00 pm Permalink

    You really crack me up, Sarah, with this lovely article. Also very proud. Incidentally, I realise how boring my life is compared to you! Love from us both.

    • Sarah Downing 12 October 2011 at 6:39 pm Permalink

      Love to you both too, Dad and Mum! Thanks for commenting. I don’t think your life is boring at all. You have both led quite full lives.

  2. anita 12 October 2011 at 8:16 pm Permalink

    good heavens, you two! the poor bunny. but, and yes this is corny, at least you can feel like you did something decent. so many ppl don’t. i’ll share one of my stories. one time, i was in the grocery shopping merrily along. i wanted a roast and went to look in the meat case, and sitting beneath the call button for the butcher was a nice man in a wheelchair. the button was placed *just* out of reach for him. silly place for it, really. he was patiently sitting there, asking dozens of passers by to simply help him get the attention of the butcher back in the back by pushing the button for him. that’s all. please, could you help me and push the call button, was all he was asking for, repeating it for each person that passed. they looked at him, then turned away and kept going. i was astounded!!! literally just stunned. i casually reached over and pushed the button for him. he was so frustrated, and in an exasperated voice just thanked me politely. i think he too was amazed it had taken almost 20 ppl to get just one person to push a frickin’ button!!

    i’ve never forgotten that moment. it taught me something i would rather not have learned about the human race. and it made me different. well, even more than i already am. my momma raised me bettah than that!

    • Sarah Downing 12 October 2011 at 8:27 pm Permalink

      Wow, AJ! What a sad story, but I have to say I have witnessed similar things too and it is most disheartening! Corey’s response was “What the hell?!” What the hell indeed! That actually reminds me of a good turn performed by David, a friend of ours whom you will meet at our wedding. On the last night of our stay in Bermuda, we bumped into David and Lindsay at a restaurant (Lindsay is the lady who kindly tended to my foot). David noticed a guy in the park sitting there in his wheel chair as the rain from Hurricane Ophelia poured on down. None of us others noticed him, perhaps because of how we were sitting. The man had been left there and needed help getting to the ferry, so David went and helped him. It saddens me that the man had been left there in the first place though.

      Love,

      Sarah


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