Saturday, March 15, 2008
"All war must be just the killing of strangers against whom you feel no personal animosity; strangers whom, in other circumstances, you would help if you found them in trouble, and who would help you if you needed it."
When I was growing up, our house in Ireland, which is on the side of an increasingly busy road, was always a considerably convenient spot for stranded drivers. Our house is isolated and is the first one that people come to within the area.
Countless times cars faltered nearby and people arrived at our house pleading the use of a telephone, help with changing a tyre or water for the vehicle. Help was always asked for- we never had to see a helpless motorist deal with the situation alone- and it was always given.
I particularly remember when I was ten years old meeting one family whose car suddenly broke down at a disastrous time. They were on vacation and far from family and friends. There was no concept of a cell phone. That night there was lightning and the rain was falling in sheets. The family was welcomed into our house where they stayed for hours, their children playing with our toys and the adults drinking hot tea until the storm passed and they could fix the car and be on their way.
Under the circumstances, it was a very pleasant visit and it mattered little that we were strangers to each other. They needed urgent assistance and it was provided without hesitation.
Weeks later on their return journey the couple astonished us by stopping at the house and bringing my family a gift of some wine to say thank you. It was unexpected and none of us ever forgot it.
Over time, then, we helped and have been helped, as it ought to be.
The last couple of years have seen an ominous change. With the surge in the number of cell phones people can now call their friends from outside our home and do not bother to knock on the door to ask for anything. Perhaps that is acceptable; if they avoid bothering strangers unnecessarily then I could understand the reasoning.
Last year, however, things took a distinctly different turn. This story was related to us only after the fact.
A man, I believe in his fifties, stopped his car a short stretch from our gate. Unable to drive due to severe pain, he frantically called his daughter from his cell phone.
She fetched an ambulance for him. They talked to each other for a time and she kept him company during the tense wait.
He did not step out of the car, knock on our door and ask for help from real people inside the house- people who simply did not, during that time, look out the window to see anybody outside. He was dead before the ambulance reached him.
I heard the news from a local person who knew, from the sighting of the ambulance and other witnessed evidence, that a man had stopped his car and died outside our house.
I cannot claim that the outcome would have been different but assuredly the horrific realisation left me numb. It is hard to understand where on earth the fellow might have gained the impression that anybody, stranger or friend, would turn a dying man away from their door.
I also have trouble comprehending why his daughter did not encourage him to immediately seek the nearest house. We would have done all we could for him, had he just knocked on our door.
Paradoxically, in an age of personal music players and whole cars to ourselves, when the self-contained bubble of isolation expands to suit our ever individual needs, people still, and always will, need other people. The fact has been obscured by various lifestyles and gadgets but it holds true: we cannot get along without others.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 10:11 AM