Charles: This is my America

Last week I was on my way to one of my morning dance classes, when as I headed down the main street in my East Boston neighborhood, I saw a man lying in the street with a few people gathered around. My first thought was oh, no, someone got hit, and rather than drive by, I took a detour down the side street closest to the corner where he lay.

Now several things you need to know about this story. One, I’m no hero. I just thought maybe I could help. Two, I learned from CPR training many years ago, that the more people around, the less chance someone will do something, assuming someone else will. And three, that didn’t happen that morning — plenty of people stepped in to help.

I parked, grabbed a couple of blankets from the back of my car and came over. I helped cover him with one and put the other under his head and off the concrete. Did anyone call 911? I asked. Several people assured me they had, and an ambulance was supposedly on its way.

Turns out the man, who used a cane, hadn’t been hit by a car, but he had stumbled as he crossed the street and fell, hitting his head. One man had a few napkins held to the back of the man’s head, which was bleeding. Other people were trying to communicate with the man, who was Latino.

“Do you speak Spanish?” one woman asked me. I said no, but made a mental note to step up my lessons on my Babbel app, pronto. In the meantime, another woman did speak Spanish, and a man driving by on the other side of the street actually stopped and asked if we needed someone who spoke Spanish. This is East Boston, just about every other person in my neighborhood speaks Spanish, but it was most of us “others” who happened to be there that morning. It was already more than five minutes and still no sign of police or ambulance. Now I know if you call 911 from a cell phone, it goes to the State Police, who then bounce you to your neighborhood. I called the East Boston police station, told them what happened, and they said they would call 911 for me and send help.

A funny aside, as several of us tried to reassure the man, who seemed dazed, but conscious — he spoke English! He told us his name, Mario, his address (he lived a couple of blocks away) and said he had a condition with his legs (hence the cane) and took a misstep with the cane landing wrong and fell.

He had a phone, which someone used to call his wife. Another person parked and started directing traffic around the site to keep him (and all of us safe). And we kept him immobile, with pressure on the wound, and let him know he was going to be OK.

It still took 15 minutes before the ambulance, a police car, and the fire department all showed up, practically simultaneously. But we were able to give some information: he hadn’t lost consciousness, he had also hurt one of his legs when he fell, and here is his cell phone. And then everyone cleaned up the site and went on their way, telling Mario, good luck, as he was loaded into the ambulance.

I’m one of many people on the left side of the political aisle who wakes up every day with a little depression, a little sadness, a side of despair and a lot of outrage. And I’m fatigued. I’ve never seen as much vitriol and gleeful hatred and proud racism in my life (and trust me, I’ve seen plenty) as I have in this last year and a half. Whoever thought the term “schadenfreude” would become so familiar, and so apt? The divide is this country is not political. It’s personal. It’s about stomping down other people to protect perceived entitlements to bigger pieces of the pie we should all share in this country.

I know we will survive, no matter how much hopelessness there seems to be. We can shout at each other over the safe anonymity of Twitter and Facebook, we can participate in mob mentality that criminalizes desperation, abuses the weakest among us, and calls it winning. We can delegitimize media outlets and turn a blind eye to compassion and empathy. We can keep drinking poison and waiting for our enemies to die.

We can continue to live in the black cloud of hatefulness, hopelessness and helplessness.

But I saw a huge silver lining around the cloud of a man falling in the street and strangers rushing to help.

No one asked if he was “illegal.” Everyone wanted to comfort him, in whatever language he was familiar with. When push came to shove, strangers became human beings, not threats to our “way of life.” We all cared. This was the ray of hope I got that day. This was my neighborhood, my neighbors, my city, my country. These are my people. This is my America.

Cheryl Charles can be reached at [email protected]

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