The social media and smartphone era that we live in promotes the idea that snapping a picture for documentation or calling your friend down to the scene is effective action. But last Sunday morning on my way to my friend's house, I passed a bus stop that I go by daily. Had I been biking, I'm not sure what my reaction would've been, but this day I was walking and so my own curiosity got the best of me. I found an opening in the circle and the object of concern was there in the middle-- a young man no older than myself. He was on his knees, kneeling on that ground considered so dirty that plastic bags and newspapers are regularly used as barriers when sitting in public places. Hunched over his duffel bag, he clenched his chest over his heart while quivering violently. He wasn't speaking, wasn't requesting anything and was noticeably in pain.
I asked the crowd if anyone had called the ambulance. Was the doctor on his way? They said "No, he doesn't want us to call because he's not a money person." There it was, that oft-discussed issue that increasingly runs the show here. If you have money here, you can buy anything including buying people off. Don't have any money? Then your lot, onlookers suggested, may be to be denied emergency medical services. I'm not sure if that's the actual way it plays out, but it raises some serious concerns to be sure.
If you've ever observed a crowd gathered around the checker and mah-jiang players, you'll notice the mass of people don't provide a lot of elbow space for them. In a culture where privacy isn't highly prized like it is in the West, having a stroke or heart attack on the street may well be the time in one's life where you are given the most space to move freely. Unfortunately, that's not exactly what the moment necessitates. Case in point here where the throng of people stood aloof from the man, perhaps arrested due to fear of a suit should they administer care that wasn't appropriate, appreciated or requested. However, if I was dying on the sidewalk, I hope a Good Samaritan would stop and help me out and I wouldn't have it in my mind to take advantage of their compassion. On Sunday, though, it became clear that if I didn't do my best to help him, no one may do so.
As I knelt next to him and started to ask him questions, it quickly became apparent that he either wasn't in a state to answer in intelligible statements or he simply wasn't offering information. Obvious also was that he wasn't in any shape to continue on in his commute to wherever he was going. After a couple minutes of trying to talk to him, he blacked out and fell backward on to his back. Though unconscious, I was relieved to find that he was still breathing and had a normal pulse, and I didn't have to administer CPR. It would occur to me later that I wasn't even sure my prior training ten years ago would come back to me that well. Between praying for him and confirming that the bystanders had now called for an ambulance, a woman joined me beside him to check vitals. Time always slows down in such moments. Perhaps three minutes passed before he came to, sat up under his own strength and then actually tried to stand up to leave. He clearly wasn't comfortable being incapacitated! Add to that, his quivering and the look on his face of duress hadn't subsided yet.
Everyone was telling him to lie back down and rest, and had he been able to stand, it would've been a lively engagement to see what would've ensued. Finally, the ambulance arrived, the lead doctor questioned him if he indeed had money, a nurse swatted the doctor and giggled, and they then started asking him questions from five feet away yet. In the end, a few people thanked me for stopping and helping, and the medical team started to disperse the crowds. I went on my way, the surrealism of it all stunning me a bit and yet bringing to light some glaring problems not only in the hesitancy to respond with action in an emergency but also with the hospital/insurance/emergency response system in China. It was the case, though, that when I responded with more personal care and attention, the bystanders also became more involved.
One lesson I took away is that sometimes people need an example and model to follow. Whether it's a situation like this or just the interaction amongst friends, when one sees love, respect and generosity shown, it can make them question if how they've 'always done it' is really the best way. Another friend of mine said the same thing---a local friend of hers, although still holding onto her traditional beliefs, said the way my friend and her husband parent and raise their kids is the best way, and this woman feels she has much to learn from them. This isn't to say, in any way, that 'we' are always right or that we are superior as people. Far be it from us to convey such an aura. But, if you believe that true love has some enduring characteristics and Truth is truth, then there are ways of loving your neighbor and sharing truth that are going to ring true with people all across the world when they see that it's different and 'better', if you will, than the way they've seen it modeled and done throughout the generations. Jesus who said he was the Way, the Life and the Truth didn't need to tell people that His way of living and His message was right. Because He was full of compassion, authenticity, love, truth, generosity and sacrificial service, His life validated His message and claims. It's His life at work in us and His example we rely on, and those who follow Him are finding that many here are impacted and impressed upon when confronted with such a radical departure from the only norm they've ever known. It is my hope that the tide shifts in situations like these, such that even after you've lived here a long time or even if you've only visited for a season, you'll surely never see it.