Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Man on the Bench

I crane my head back to check the bench. It's probably nothing to be worried about. Probably. I'm sure he's fine.

It's broad daylight. Chilly weather but no snow. Moms will be picking their kids up from school soon. If there's a problem they'll call for help, of course.

Or will they be like me and just go on by?

I flick a finger at my phone screen and capture a Pokemon as I bike away from the park. (Yes, I am now Dutch enough to play Pokemon Go while I bike. It probably counts as a useful life skill.)

I round the corner towards my neighborhood but gradually apply my brakes.

What would Jesus do?

I tell myself firmly that Jesus didn't fix every problem he saw. Or talked with each person in the crowds who came to hear him. Jesus made well-balanced decisions. Like me, on my way to feed my tired toddler and then put him down to nap. My responsibility right now is to be a good mom.

But five minutes won't make a difference as far as Pippin is concerned, honestly. I'm just wary of this ... situation. This moral quandary. I'm suddenly, uncomfortably, aware that I would have immediately biked back had there been a rare Pokemon at the park. And that thought makes me swing my bike around in a U-turn between the food-and-liquor store and the bike shop.

Two minutes later, a pedestrian gives me an odd look as I pull my bike over the curb and onto the park path. I ignore him and slowly wheel down towards the man on the bench.

His long legs are still hanging off the end at an awkward angle. That's what caught my eye at first, because surely a homeless person would know to curl up on the long bench, not dangle half off of it. But he doesn't look homeless, not in his nice turquoise jacket and spiffy black backpack. His hair is trimmed, but his eyes are closed.

"Meneer, gaat het?" I ask. Sir, are you ok?

He coughs, vomits a little, and rubs his hand across his neatly trimmed beard. There's a puddle on the ground and a smell of beer in the air. Oh. Not having an epileptic fit, then, or a heart attack.

"Meneer," I repeat, "gaat het met u?" I can feel Pippin staring from his seat as the man shifts, coughs again, and eventually sits up. His eyes focus on my face.

I rummage in the backpack in my bike basket. "Wilt u water?"

"Ah, water," he says, but looks confused when I hand him a pack of tissues along with a half-full water bottle. He says something that I don't understand. Polish? Russian?

"Przepraszam," I say, with an apologetic smile. Excuse me, sorry, pardon. I don't speak Russian, and it's the only thing that comes to mind in Polish, but he nods. "Dank je."

I wheel Pippin along the path and then retrace my route towards home, wondering what I could have done differently. Offered ibuprofen in case of a hangover? Asked if he needed me to call anyone? What's normal protocol when someone passes out on a park bench at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon?

Maybe some day I'll talk with Pippin about this. About when to make smart, responsible choices, and also when to take a few minutes to see if someone is ok. Especially since, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how many Pokemon you catch.

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