Yesterday I had two opportunities to do something to help another person, and I don't think I could have predicted either time what my reaction ended up being.
The first situation happened just after I'd gotten to the dog park with two of my dogs. There's a basketball court over to one side of the fenced in off-leash area where dogs are allowed to run free while their owners supervise. Probably because it was chilly and overcast outside, nobody else was in the fenced area when I got there, and, as I stood there watching my dogs do their initial sniff-and-discovery routine, I noticed a group of about a dozen teenagers standing in a disorganized-looking circle on the court. A few of them were yelling, but I couldn't hear them enough to tell what they were saying. The only girl in the group had a little video camera and appeared to be filming some sort of action. I was curious about what she was doing, and so I walked a few yards over in the fenced in area so that I could have a clearer view of what they were looking at.
It was a boy, on the ground, being punched by another boy who was on top of him. I started to be able to make out the words that were being shouted by the kids who were watching; it was the usual jeering and goading associated with a brawl. Just a second after I recognized what was going on, the boy on the ground scrambled to his feet and took off running towards the entrance of the fenced area. As he ran past on the other side of the fence from where I was, I said, "Are you ok?" Without breaking his stride, he quickly glanced in my direction, brought his hand up to wipe the blood and tears from his face, and quietly said, "Yeah." I watched him run past to the opposite side of dog park and into the little concrete block building where the restrooms were.
And then I saw two of the other teenagers break away from the group on the court and start walking towards the bathroom. One of them was clenching and unclenching his fists.
I already had my cell phone in my hand; I sometimes take pictures of my dogs playing at the dog park so I usually have it at-the-ready when I'm there. As the boys walked across the parking lot, I dialed 9-1-1 and told the operator what I'd seen and that I was afraid the boys were going to follow the kid that had been beaten up into the bathroom and corner him.
I considered using my teacher-voice and telling the boys to leave him alone. I considered following them. I considered taking my dogs back to my car and driving over to right in front of the little building and sitting on the horn to create a distraction. But I didn't do any of those things. I just stood there trying to calculate all the possible outcomes from each of my possible reactions; I was telling myself that the police would get there any second and that it didn't make sense for me to get so involved that I would be putting myself in danger.
Luckily, I live in a town with a generally quick-response law enforcement reaction time, and as I stood there watching the boys approach the bathroom, a police car pulled up in the parking lot. The officer saw me standing at the fence and rolled down his window. I told him where the kids were, and he quickly drove his car over to the concrete building, parked, and swung open the entrance door to the bathroom, which the two boys had walked right past when they'd seen the officer's car approaching. A minute later, the officer came out with the injured boy, who'd evidently cleaned himself up and had blood-tinged toilet paper stuffed up both of his nostrils. Neither of them looked in my direction as they walked towards one of the little houses that was just across the street from the park to what I guessed what the boy's house.
A minute later, a woman with a dog parked her car and came into the fenced area with her dog. I told her what had happened and we talked about how glad we were that it hadn't been worse as we watched our dogs sniff and then chase each other around.
I was feeling pretty cowardly later as I considered my lack of real reaction, though, after I'd left the park. I'm not sure what I wished I'd done; I know that I was realistically limited in what I could have/should have done. But it still feels like I'm letting myself off the hook too easily, and it still sucks to realize that not one iota of badassness came forth from within me when it was needed.
The second thing happened at the grocery store, which is where my bruised ego and I went after we dropped the dogs off at my house. I did my shopping, waited in line, and was getting checked out, when a bag boy (I feel like that term isn't P.C. especially when said "boy" is actually a man older than I am, but I'm at a loss as to what other wording to use here.) came over and started sacking my groceries. He turned to the older guy (bag boy?) who'd been sacking and said, "I'm supposed to take over for you since it's your turn to go on break." The old guy said, "OK. Did they tell you I have to go on break now or just that I could if I needed to?" Before the first guy could answer, the checker said, "He doesn't know; he wouldn't know" in what I thought was a very condescending tone of voice. I should add to this that the slightly younger sacker, whom I've seen in the store many times over the years, appears to have some sort of developmental disability; I, of course, don't know his diagnosis, but it's apparent that he has some special needs. That said, though, OF COURSE he didn't deserve to be treated as if he were incompetent or anything else, for that matter.
If you know me, or maybe even if you don't, you can probably see where I'm going with this. For some reason - maybe he hadn't heard her, or maybe, like me, he just couldn't believe the way she's said that - the older guy said, "What?" and the checker repeated her rude, inappropriate statement as if the younger checker couldn't hear her. Just like at the park an hour earlier, a few different scenarios played out in my head over the course of the next few seconds. The checker continued to scan things, and the stuff was piling up at the far end of the conveyer belt as the two bag boys just stood there, apparently waiting for someone else to say something. "That's not very nice," I finally said to the checker, who didn't look up from scanning as she casually said, "Huh?" "That's not nice; it's very disrespectful and rude to assume that you know what someone else knows or would know," I said, louder this time, and when she looked up I could see that she knew then what I was referring to. She looked from me to the younger sacker and said, "I'm sorry; I don't know why I said that." "Oh, that's ok," the guy said, with as much genuineness as I'd ever heard in a voice before.
And with that, I was left wonder as I paid for the groceries and rolled the cart towards my car in the parking lot: Was the younger sacker offended by what the checker had said? Was she really sorry? Did she realize that what she had said to him was wrong? Was the older guy just going to stand there and do nothing? I guess it didn't matter, but in any case I was glad this time that I'd stood up for somebody - far from a badass move, but better than nothing, I guess.