I just got back from my morning run after dropping my son at childcare. It was a difficult drop off after a difficult start to the morning and a difficult run as I'm still recovering from a perpetual cold. I was really enjoying the opportunity to listen to a podcast - the Goodlife Project episode with Brene Brown. It's a great episode and it was really getting me fired up for my work day.
As I traveled along the path by the river I passed a little boy in the shadows of the underpass. He was about three years old with a balance bike. He was standing by the fence watching the river flow by. I figured his parents or someone was probably following closely behind and expected to see them as I went up the hill, but there wasn't anyone there. I turned back and I could see the boy had move on. Oh fuck, now I felt responsible. If he continued on, he'd be past the fenced off area and could be into drowning territory very quickly.
So I turned around, ran back and called out to him using the most carefully selected, non alarmist and non confronting language I could think of. I asked him if he'd gone too far ahead of his mum or dad and said I thought it was probably a good idea if he wait in one spot for them until they showed up. I told him I'd sit with him (at a comfortable distance) and wait for them to show up.
I felt surprisingly very vulnerable. I didn't know how it was going to turn out. Sure, in my mind I was preventing this boy from a potential accident. But what was whoever was looking after him going to think? I mean, this little kid was left to his own devices on a bike with no helmet along a flowing river for crying out loud. I took this as an indicator that we probably didn't necessarily share the same value. And what was I supposed to do if they didn't show up?
It was a good three and a half minutes until I saw some feet appear in the distance (I know because I had my watch recording my now interrupted run). That might not seem like a long time in the general sense, but having worked in the paediatric ICU, and having a neighbour who lost a child in a backyard drowning, I know that it doesn't take long for bad things to happen to little kids. Along came his grandparents who looked mildly concerned and commented on how fast he is on his bike. I smiled and took off promptly.
Sometimes, often times, we have to do what is right, not what is most comfortable. As humans we have a collective responsibility to look out for each other and do what we can. Always.