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Julie VanSpall – Home Front

We can act in our own parables

Voices Nov. 14, 2018

The parable of the Good Samaritan appeals to children, who can empathize with the injured man, writes Julie VanSpall, who asks, “Why do so many adults turn a blind eye to the suffering of others?” (Pieter Lastman/Wikimedia image)

“… humbly regard others as more important than yourselves” – (Phil 2:3)

The Grade 4 students in my school have been working on the assignment of writing modern-day parables. Many chose to base their stories on the Good Samaritan. Young children are moved when hearing of people ignoring a man who had been left for dead. These little ones, who readily seek comfort when they simply fall and scrape their knee, empathize with the injured man. They all hope to be like the Samaritan who treated a lonely and hurting stranger with love and dignity, helping him to safety and paying for his care.

The childlike wisdom in the students’ parables causes me to ponder two incidents. At the forefront of each of my reflections is the question, “Why do so many adults turn a blind eye to the suffering of others?”

A few weeks ago, a friend texted me to say that she had witnessed a car accident. The gas from the air bags in one of the vehicles resembled smoke and, seeing this, she immediately parked her car and rushed to help.

My friend is like me in that blood and trauma usually paralyze her. We each have stories of not being able to look into the mouths of our bleeding children for fear of what we might confront; yet, she left her vehicle, instructed a man to phone 911, and helped strangers exit their vehicles to sit on the curb and wait for help. She didn’t take the time to second-guess her instincts. She did what she had to do, and later told me that she’d always wondered what her abilities would be in a crisis.

Afterward, she also reflected on the fact that the intersection was filled with people who simply sat in their vehicles because the roads were blocked. They did not come forward to check on anyone, to call for help, or to even offer to give information to the investigators and insurance adjusters. Everyone but my friend and one gentleman kept to themselves.

I have never witnessed a serious car accident, but I did once stop to help an older woman who had slipped on the ice and was lying face down on the sidewalk with her legs on the street. I turned a corner and came very close to hitting her, so I pulled over and went to her, filled with uncertainty, fear and self-doubt.

Instinctively, I decided to stand on the street in front of her so that drivers would notice me and slow down, then pulled out my phone to dial 911. Unlike my friend’s experience, within minutes there were three other people right there to help. Rather than feeling helpless, I suddenly felt like part of a team. Not witnessing her fall or knowing the extent of her injuries, we didn’t move the woman, but we talked to her. She didn’t speak English and she seemed quite disoriented, but we tried our best to comfort her.

The woman may have felt embarrassed that she’d fallen and had drawn the attention of several strangers, but I’m sure she’d rather have been embarrassed and cared for than embarrassed and all alone. I know I would feel that way if I were in her shoes.

With others there to protect her from traffic, I ran back to my car to get blankets for her. Just as I returned, a fire truck arrived, and rescue workers took over. My “team” and I left our names and numbers, leaving the professionals to do their jobs.

My friend and I had very different experiences, yet we both reacted in ways that pleasantly surprised us. Neither of us could simply ignore people in vulnerable positions. I know that I was terrified to help an injured stranger and I didn’t know what to say, but in those moments, I’m pleased to realize that adrenaline took over and I didn’t think of myself.

Perhaps that is the key: my friend and I didn’t really think; we just acted. Nervous as we were, we allowed our hearts to lead, and didn’t wait long enough to overthink and lose courage.  

Maybe, like my fourth-grade friends, we should all write modern-day parables. Rather than using words, though, let us write with our actions.