Like many people, for the majority of my life, I’ve had to fend for myself. I’ve had to fight for my dignity, my way of life, my beliefs, and my personal philosophies. I don’t fit into society but it doesn’t bother mer. I have become my own person and created my own life. I don’t go looking for trouble, but I have learned to fight for the things I need and want. I’ve learned to stand strong in my personal thinking. I have been proud of my strength and my convictions…
Just a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to defend someone who could not effectively defend herself…and I didn’t do anything! I am embarrassed to admit I did nothing when someone could have benefitted from my assistance.
Even now, days later…and I’m still ashamed. I think of all the things I could have done. I rehearse monologues in my head of the words I could have said. I know it doesn’t do any good now. The imagined scenarios don’t make me feel any better…I still feel cruel and mean. My musings only make me feel more ashamed. My thoughts only remind me that I just sat by and did nothing when someone was suffering…
This is my confession…
A few weeks ago, my friend, Sharon, and I decided to meet in Las Vegas. We had a great morning together as we walked the strip. Around 1 pm, hungry, thirsty, and tired, we decided to stop at one of the many fast food restaurants located on South Las Vegas Boulevard. We were seated at an outside table, chatting happily as we enjoyed salads, hamburgers, French fries, and soft drinks. The food was fun. The conversation was interesting. Sharon and I hadn’t seen each other for over a year and were enjoying a pleasant reunion.
A loud, deep voice caused both of us to jump as it shattered the delightfulness of the afternoon.
The voice shouted again and my head automatically snapped to the right as my attention focused on a large, stocky man with a bald head and full red beard. He was dressed in a green T-shirt and denim shorts. His face was beginning to turn as red as his beard as he continued to scream. “What’s wrong with you? SHUT UP!”
A second voice was screeching back at the man. This voice was high and thin. It was reedy and shallow. “OWIE!” The small voice cried. “OWIE!”
I looked at the source of the second voice. A child was sitting in a large, blue stroller. She was dressed in a pink sunsuit and white sandals. Her straight blond hair hung loosely around her tear-streaked face. She pointed to her left arm and continued to cry. “OWIE!” The child twisted and turned in her seat. She would lean forward and then throw herself backwards as she continued to scream. Her small feet kicked at the bottom strap of the stroller. The little girl couldn’t have been more than two-years-old.
After shouting “SHUT UP!” for a while and not getting any positive results, the man finally changed tactics. He tried unsuccessfully to reason with the child. “Oh, for God’s sake,” the man shouted, “are you going to act this way when you’re 40!?” The argument he raised did no good. The child had no concept of 40 and continued to cry.
Getting nowhere with this logic, the man returned to his original strategy. “SHUT UP!”
Above all of the crying and shouting, I suddnely heard Sharon’s voice. “Take a deep breath. Relax,” she whispered to me. “You are aobut to snap!”
“I’m breathing…I’m breathing…” I whispered back, not realizing until that moment that I had been holding my breath. “I’m relaxing…but if he puts one hand on that little girl, I’m in this!” I warned her.
“I think most people here feel the same way,” Sharon answered back. “We are all keeping an eye on him.”
I looked around at the other diners. A 60-ish-year-old man was sitting stiffly in his chair at the next table. His body was pitched forward as if he was about to spring up at any moment. A group of five middle-aged women were sitting around a table closest to the child in the stroller. The women shifted awkwardly in their seats and glanced around uncomfortably. An older security guard approached the red-bearded man but only engaged him in friendly conversation. The subtle influence didn’t help though. The father continually interrupted the conversation to scream “SHUT UP!” at the crying child. He refused to comfort her; he refused to hold her. The man came up with an entirely new and different method of dealing with the little girl.
As the child continued to howl and scream “OWIE!” the man grabbed her left arm, looked at the spot where the child pointed, and then dumped some of the sticky soda he was holding in a paper cup over the child’s skin.
The security guard just continued to smile and talk. The five women cringed and looked nervously away. The elderly gentleman at the next table sat up straighter in his seat. Sharon grabbed my arm as I leaned forward…but not a single one of us interfered with the man’s actions.
Finally, the red-bearded man began to push the stroller with the screaming child down the sidewalk as he continued to shout “SHUT UP! What’s wrong with you? You always do this! YOU’RE THE PROBLEM! Every day you create some drama! Every day! I swear you are gonna be doing this when you’re 35.” The child’s screams slowly faded away as the father and daughter continued down the street.
After a tense silent moment, everyone at the restaurant finally relaxed and began to breathe deeply. Conversations began to buzz again as people turned their attention back to their pleasant lunches. Sharon and I finished our meals and stood up from the table. We left the restaurant and continued walking down the street, but the excitement of that morning had diminished as I thought about the little girl in the stroller.
Weeks later, and I’m still thinking about that child in Vegas. I wonder what happened to her and where she is now. I still feel the shame of not saying or doing anything. I’m still confused by the whole event. Do I have the right to interfere with someone else’s parenting, especially when I have never had children? I don’t know how to raise children. I’ve never been a parent. I just know how it feels to be a child who needs love, attention, and acceptance…
Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” How good am I really if I defend myself but let others, especially children, suffer? People don’t always regret the things they do. They regret the things they don’t do. I sincerely regret the times I saw abuse occur and I did nothing.
I should have done something that day…Yeah, I really should have done something.