Let’s pretend for a moment that you are standing on the street corner waiting for the crosswalk light to signal green.
On the opposite side of the street, you notice a woman standing there also waiting for the light to turn green. As you take a closer look at the woman, you can see that she is visibly shedding tears.
When the light changes, both of you start your march across to the other side. As you meet in the middle of the street, you feel the urge to stop and ask the woman if there is anything you can do to help her hurting heart.
Your urge lasts for a moment, then it is overcome by the need to hurry on to complete the many others task on your “to do list” for the day.
You had the best of intentions, but you do not seize the moment. You let her pass without saying a single word.
As the day goes by, you continue to be haunted by the image of the tear-filled woman, and the missed opportunity to reach out and offer comfort.
Over and over you replay that encounter, asking yourself why didn’t I turn to her and say, “Excuse me, but is there anything I can do to help?”
I don’t have many regrets in life, but there is one that bothers me, and at the same time serves as an example of why I will never miss an opportunity to offer help to a troubled soul.
Many years ago, I was making my way through a long grocery list, trying to hurry back home to another list of home projects. As I was going from aisle to aisle, I noticed an elderly gentleman, whom I knew through his children and grandchildren.
We were not close friends, but we were certainly well-acquainted with each other.
The thing that caught my attention was he was roaming the aisles looking very confused. For a moment, I wanted to stop and ask if he needed help with anything, but then I was overtaken by the urge to hurry up with my shopping so I could get on with the tasks I had at home.
Just like the encounter at the crosswalk, I let the opportunity pass me by without saying a single word.
I justified my lack of effort by thinking that surely someone with more time on their hands will stop and assist the ole fellow. The fact is, I don’t know if everyone felt the same way I did or if someone with a caring heart actually stepped in to help him.
Let me tell you what I do know for sure, and it is the reason why I will never pass up an opportunity to just ask the question, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
The day after that encounter, I ran across a friend who proceeded to tell me the elderly gentleman whom I let wonder aimlessly down the aisles went on to meet the Good Lord.
As he was telling about this, I began to feel very sad that I didn’t stop to help him the day before. Just as I was feeling ashamed of myself, my friend said the one thing that could have made it worse for me.
“He took his own life.”
I don’t know if things would have turned out different if I had stopped and asked him if he needed my help.
Maybe he would have shared his depression and I could have given him many reasons to live. Maybe he already had taken steps to end his pain and nothing I would have said would matter.
This encounter happened over 25 years ago. Ever since then, I’ve made sure to pay attention to the people around me as I go about my day.
I’ve spent the next quarter-century asking the question I failed to ask when I was too self-absorbed to see the bigger picture.
The death of that elderly man, at his own hands, opened my eyes to the fact that I should never let my good intentions take the place of a conversation that could make a difference to someone.
Now when I make a trip to the grocery store, I plan on being there for a while. Instead of finding reasons to avoid contact with others, I go out of my way to engage strangers, and in order to get the attention of those I know very well, I’m known to run my shopping cart into theirs just to get a reaction.
Let me tell you, a lively conversation will follow.
On one particular visit to the grocery store, I spent sooooo long talking to a friend who shared the same gift for gab that my milk spoiled and half a dozen chicken eggs hatched before I could get out the parking lot.
This encounter has become a treasured memory for two reasons. First, this sweet lady told me that she and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and would like me to speak at a church service where family and friends gathered to witness the renewal of their wedding vows.
Secondly, it was not long after that blessed day that her husband fell ill and had to be admitted to a nursing home for special care.
I have lived the past 25 years turning most of my good intentions into solid effort. For the next 25 years, I will try my best to change the word “most” into “all.”