Op-ed: Coming together during a crisis

The saying goes that you are your brother’s keeper. There is also an idiom about turning a blind eye. Out of sight out of mind.

I experienced firsthand all of these things recently and the experience was shocking, scary, life-affirming, head-scratching, sad and eye-opening all at once.

On Aug. 3, I attended a wonderful production of “La Cage Aux Folles” at the Actors Guild in Parkersburg. At the conclusion of the show, my family, including my teenage daughter, left to drive home to Marietta. Just around the block, in the middle of downtown Parkersburg, while sitting in fairly decent traffic, I witnessed a person lying face down on the sidewalk. Apparently this young man had been sitting on a nearby bench and had fallen off.

Now, working in the news industry and having written about the opioid epidemic in our area, I am not naive as to what could have put him in this situation. But I didn’t care. He was in need of help. So I pulled into a nearby parking lot and jumped out to see what assistance I could offer. Unfortunately, it turned out that this young man was bigger than I had strength for, so my mom, who just turned 70, jumped out to help me try to get him to his feet. I witnessed people drive past him in front of me before I got to him. I witnessed people drive past while we were struggling with him. Then I noticed one other couple pull in to the parking lot to offer assistance. Thankfully.

In talking with this young man, I learned that he was from Marietta. He had been given a taxi voucher to get to Parkersburg and was trying to find his way to the Latrobe Street Mission. But apparently, he had given up this journey. His new mission was to commit suicide.

He told me that he had taken all of his Ambien and more than 100 of something else, the name of which I was unfamiliar.

When the other couple appeared, I told them immediately to call 9-1-1. None of us could get him up off the ground and his skin was ashen, he was having tremors, his hand as I held it was cold and clammy. I had no idea how long this young person had left. And I was scared and angry, with a million questions running through my mind.

Why had he been given a taxi voucher to seek help in a neighboring town? Why was he downtown and not at the mission? Why does Marietta not have its own services for this young man? Why, WHY did no one else stop to help him?

After more than one frantic call to emergency services, and a dispatcher who didn’t seem overly concerned about this situation taking precedence over everything else they had going on, a squad arrived with two young paramedics on board. I explained to them what he told me he had done and his intent and the level of concern increased.

As four of us struggled to get this young man on a gurney, my anger and fear turned to hopefulness, and thankfulness for these young men and women whose job it is everyday to respond to these types of situations. Thankful that they hadn’t become hardened enough to these instances that they didn’t have a measure of urgency. He was going to get help, I hoped. I didn’t want to think of the alternative.

But I looked into his very soulful brown eyes and he looked like a child. He is someone’s child. And I wept as they wheeled him away.

Grabbing his hand, I reminded him, “you matter. We stopped because you matter. Please don’t try this again. There are still people in the world who care.”

His response: “It just doesn’t feel that way sometimes.”

How did we get here? What are we going to do about it? The answers to those questions still plague me several days later, in the midst of drug addiction, mass violence perpetrated against innocents, people driving by someone dying on the street; I don’t know the answers. But I know that we’ve got to keep each other. We’ve got to collectively stop and help and not drive by.

My teenage daughter, who sat safely in the car during this whole ordeal, experienced exactly what it means to be your brother’s keeper. My only hope is that it will be a lesson that lives with her and she, in turn, can be the helping hand that the world so desperately needs.

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Erin O’Neill is a copy editor for The Marietta Times. She can be reached at eoneill@mariettatimes.com.

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