I believe in treating uncertainty and possibility as positive things. No matter what, I like to embrace each moment as it comes, and do the right thing in every situation without dwelling on the “what ifs.”
A year ago, I stepped out of a train station in Belfast, Northern Ireland, only to be greeted with the sight of an old man slumped on the ground outside a convenience store. He was drunk beyond belief, and his clothes were ragged and torn. It made me miserable to just look at his puffy wine-bag cheeks and protruding red eyes. I felt embarrassed to be witnessing his state, like I was spying or intentionally invading his privacy. The man was shakily attempting to eat some sloppy-looking food from a plastic plate in his lap, but he couldn’t make his fork connect with his mouth. I watched in horror as the the man’s head suddenly drooped, and he lost control of his body completely. The food splattered to the ground, a mess of red sauce that streaked across the filthy city sidewalk. The man looked uncomprehendingly at the mess for a moment and then bent down and tried to eat his meal off of the ground.
As I watched him, I was split in two by inner conflict. I wanted, more than anything, to be able to help him, but before I could act, my mind met my good intentions with a million “what ifs.” I was scared for myself, scared what he might do, and scared of what people would think. Before I knew it, I was so bound by my own fear that I could do nothing but walk away.
I got halfway around the block before I turned back. What I saw before me brought tears to me eyes. A well-dressed young man was squatting on the street beside the old drunk. He was right in there amongst the dirt and grime, talking reassuringly and scraping the food up.
I watched the new scene unfold in front of me through a blur of tears, puzzling it out. What this man was doing was not a patronizing attempt to do a good deed for the day – an arrogant toss of spare change to a beggar or a meaningless utterance of sanctification. This well-dressed man didn’t try to drag the old man out of the dirt; he got right down in there with him. I watched the sauce seep into the knees of the man’s suit, and I knew that this man hadn’t stopped to think about the “what ifs” and the “maybes” that so many people live their lives by. Instead, he had acted on what others only talked about.
Watching that man’s kind act made me realize that there are worse things than stained knees. Now, I do not let my fears hold me back. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I don’t stop to think about it anymore, instead I just go and find out.
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