I’ve been struck this weekend of the power of the busybody, or more accurately the Good Samaritan. Our daughter, Leslie, told me of a student, Dwight, 13, who has a history of fighting at school, not doing class work or homework. One day while cutting school, he sat in the park, and a woman came up to him.
“You belong in school,” she said.
“It’s too noisy,” he said. (The math and science teacher cannot control her class, not my daughter who teaches literature—honest! )
“You should talk to your teacher and tell her you’re bored,” the woman said. “Maybe she could have you tested so that you could move ahead a grade. At least explain to her that the work is boring to you.”
My daughter always thought this boy was bright, bright enough to outwit his parents, to find all the loopholes. Even though he behaved in her classroom, he wouldn’t participate.
Until he met the woman in the park. Since then, he’s come every day with his backpack full of binders of notes that he’s taking. She pulled him aside after school and asked him what had triggered his turn around, and he explained about the encounter with the woman.
“He really thinks she was sent to him,” Leslie explained.
Leslie gave him a novel and assigned him a book report which could help pull up his grade. She told him that my husband and I were coming to her class to announce the second annual short story contest for her students. “Maybe you could win one of the monetary prizes,” she told him.
Then he explained that he and a friend had begun writing a graphic novel. Since I have a writer friend who judges graphic novels each year and has endless books on hand, I’ll be able to take lots to my daughter to share with her students.
No sooner had I gotten off the phone with Leslie than I met my own personal Good Samaritan, Marvin. Almost 2 years ago I fell and dislocated my left thumb a half block from home. My dog Flossie stayed right with me, but my hand hurt too much to grip her harness.
A woman called to me, “Are you all right.”
I had stood up immediately and was trying to maneuver the harness. “I think I really hurt my hand,” I said.
Silence. The woman poofed away. A minute passed. Another.
And then I heard him. “Hang on. I’m coming.”
Marvin came up and said, “Do you have a cell?”
I did, but not on me. (Don’t tell Leslie). “I live so close,” I said. “I’m sure I can make it home and ice this. Thanks.” I had to teach that night, had to work out before teaching.
He touched my arm. “I think you’ve broken your hand,” he said. “I’d like to call 9-1-1 for the paramedics to get you to the ER.”
And then I touched my hand and went a little dizzy. The thumb was perpendicular to its base. ”Ah, think you’re right.”
He led me to the stairs to the church on the corner. “Maybe you should sit and rest.”
Within minutes the paramedics came. They were terrific, paying almost more attention to Flossie—but definitely sufficient attention to me.
By the time I reached the ER, I realized that I hadn’t gotten Marvin’s last name. I’d been bewildered enough after the fall that I wasn’t sure I’d thanked him properly. I considered writing a letter to the editor to the anonymous Marvin who’d been so thoughtful. But life resumed, and I never found a way to communicate.
But then I ran into him yesterday and properly thanked him. We talked a bit and walked to the corner.
I still don’t know Marvin’s last name. But he helped me at a time that my brain wasn’t working beautifully and talked me into the right course of action. The woman in the park talked Dwight into the right course of action.
It’s probably easier to step up when someone has an accident than to approach an African-American teenage boy. But precisely because he is a boy with so much chance yet to change, we should step up, intrude, encourage, and scold.
Because I’ve received unsought and unsound advice, I’m reluctant to tell people what to do.
But when someone is hurting, either with a dislocated thumb or with major bad choices, maybe we need to speak up and speak out.