Helping others is a privilege

“We are all cells in the same body of humanity” ~ Peace Pilgrim
I watched a film on Netflix the other day as I hid under a blanket with my hot water bottle in an attempt to keep warm with the minus-40 temperature hurling around outdoors.
The film’s title is “I, Daniel Blake.” The setting is north of London in Great Britain but it could be anywhere.
The point of the film, I think, was to show that fine examples of humanity exist within poverty; people with dreams and hopes and who care deeply about each other, a single mother doing all she can to feed and care for her children, a man whose failing health took him out of the workforce.
All too often, those whose lives are ravaged by unfortunate circumstances are depicted as violent, turning on one another for survival. Films with dystopian themes seem to lean in this direction.
That’s not the case with “I, Daniel Blake.”
I was sad watching the film; struggled with the frustration of bureaucracy and the templates and stereotypes we apply to those in need of assistance, and how we lose sight of the individual as they are lumped together as a “thing” rather than a person, where they are thought of as a burden to society rather than an opportunity to raise each other up.
There are no homeless in Dawson City–a fact that doesn’t need to be stated, quite obviously, as no one could survive the winter temperatures here, But I also think there tends to be a lack of the social layers we may see in other communities.
I can’t credit the speaker, though I am leaning toward Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu, but he said the measure of a country’s well-being and strength is how it cares for its weakest, its marginalized, its ill and dying, its aged and wounded.
Some of us consider the required concern a burden, an annoyance, an unacceptable drain of “my money.” I’ve heard it over and over, in the news, in the coffee shop, in the political rhetoric.
Then I read about those who take a personal path in helping others and how his/her life is transformed in doing so. We see examples of what we consider exceptional actions on Facebook and such, when we would be so much better off if those actions were the norm rather than deemed extraordinary.
We should want to react immediately in a positive way when we come upon someone in need.
The other night, a very cold night, I was walking to a poetry reading, hurrying to get out of the cold. I came upon an older man struggling to walk, his legs cold and stiff, his hands bare, wearing a bomber-style jacket without much warmth to it.
The man was bleeding from his mouth and nose, so I guessed he had a fall.
I stopped to help him, trying to determine where he needed to be. Another man came along to see what was happening. I explained where Russell was headed: to MacDonald Lodge five blocks away.
“I will walk him there,” I said. “He’s really not our problem,” the man said, turning to go.
Not our problem. The words were an assault on my brain. Not our problem.
I did get Russell safely back to the seniors’ lodge, flagging down an RCMP vehicle for help. And after I saw Russell safely home, I went on my way. Yes, Russell may have made it home safely on his own or he may have slipped and fell, unseen in the darkness and found frozen in the daylight.
In truth, he wasn’t my problem. He was my privilege; my great fortune to have come upon him with my mobility intact, warmly-dressed.
As I carried on to the poetry reading, I was the one whose day was bettered by Russell. Not the other way around.
wendistewart@live.ca

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