The Compassion of a Community, the Dispassion of Day-Trippers

Last weekend I saw two contrasting sides of humanity. One heart-warming, the other troubling.

The former occurred after a weekend of great sadness in my hometown. Firstly there was a terrible tragedy that robbed a family of its children. And then we learned that a very brave little boy was reaching the end of his fight. Two communities came together with the wider area, to help two families stricken with the most unbearable loss. Yes, with solidarity and emotional support, but also with financial help and practical assistance. 

You read about that sort of thing a lot. In the papers; on the news. Communities so touched by a neighbour's plight that they come together, when they might not have done in other circumstances. They raise money and awareness. They stand vigil, they light candles, they release lanterns and pull together. As I say, it's something you see a lot of, and admire, while hoping to God that such a thing never needs to happen in your town. But this week it did and, yes, I saw that very same compassion and caring in my fellow citizens.

In stark contrast I saw what turned out to be the very antithesis of the Good Samaritan. I was travelling with friends to a local tourist spot. The bus was packed with day-trippers all looking forward to a day out. The sun was shining and everyone was chatting. Then one of our fellow passengers, seated right at the back of the bus, fell ill. Fortunately for him a former nurse was travelling on the same bus. As she attended to him it was very clear that he needed proper medical attention and the driver, who had pulled over to the side of a road, called an ambulance. Those of us seated near the poorly man, moved down the bus to allow him space. What I heard really surprised me. People wanting to get on the bus were complaining about the delay. Some of those already seated were muttering away. One of my fellow refugees helpfully explained what had been happening but,remarkably, there was much sighing as they realised we would all have to wait for the ambulance to arrive before continuing our journeys.

The driver asked everyone to step off the bus to allow space for the imminent arrival of the medics. I have to say many of us did. All of those who had been seated near him did so. And to be honest, I think we were all grateful to move away. No-one likes watching someone struggling and in distress, as this gentleman was. I've always held the view that, if you can't do anything to help, you should at least make space for those who can. And, in truth, we were all pretty upset by what we had witnessed. We discussed amongst ourselves how it had occurred to us that none of us had really known what we could do to help, other than be sympathetic and allow someone with greater knowledge take over. Several of us vowed to look into that once we got home.

But as we waited beside the road something else occurred to us. There were still quite a few people seated on the bus. And if you imagine that once the ambulance arrived those people joined us, you'd be quite wrong. Instead they remained stoically in their seats. And these were not infirm or elderly individuals. Indeed a number of people using walking sticks were standing outside with us. These were apparently hale and hearty types. They tried to look busy. Read their magazines. Do their crosswords. One woman even applied hand cream. You'd have thought they were waiting for a cleaner to sweep the bus floor! It was quite remarkable. While two paramedics and a nurse attended to that poor man, they just sat there. Looking at their watches, tutting away. Entirely dispassionate.

Eventually the patient, who by now was fortunately at least on his feet, was helped off the bus and into the waiting ambulance. As we filed back on to the bus in rather sombre mood, there was yet more grumbling from those who had refused to evacuate. Of course now they were worrying about being late. While half the passengers were extremely upset by what had occurred, the other half seemed rather irritated by the delay. Yes, we'd been delayed half-an-hour or more, and people might well have been late for appointments, or missed connections, but at least they weren't the one now being carted off to hospital with blue lights flashing. 

There are times when your fellow human beings utterly appall you, and this was certainly one of those times. How anyone can be so utterly unmoved by the suffering of someone just yards away is beyond me. Thank goodness the chap concerned was too out of it to notice the moaning and grumbling all around him. The reaction of some of our fellow passengers could not have been in starker contrast to those who would gather that night to help that poor family. Those kinds of people make me feel proud. Some of those on the bus made me feel rather ashamed. I rather imagine they are still complaining.