Coming across hurting people

Nicaraguan man

Leon, Nicaragua

I have several regrets in life, and here is one: I didn’t ask if she was okay.

It was late on a cold January night and I was standing alone at the Trocadero, looking at the Eiffel Tower. At some point, through the faint and assorted sounds of the city, I heard sobbing. Maybe 100 foot away stood a woman. She looked American and the tears on her cheeks were obvious even in the dim light.

I looked back at the Eiffel Tower, though my ear continued to face the crying woman. For maybe fifteen minutes I listened — sniffling and then sobbing, silence and then a fresh outburst of pain. I guessed she was in her thirties, probably on a business trip, apparently dealing with something very hard. I wanted to ask if she was okay, if there was anything I could do, yet I also didn’t want to intrude. Had she once been here with a lover who had since left her? Did she just get tragic news on the phone? Was her job not working out or was she maybe even dying?

In the end, I said nothing to her. I opted to give her space, fearing I’d just add to her grief if I stepped into her space, perhaps even appearing like I was coming on to her.

Today I would have done it differently. I would have listened maybe 60 seconds and then I would have walked over and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to intrude if you want to be alone, but are you okay?” I would have made myself available to listen, for hours if need be, and I would have put my sightseeing schedule (or approaching bedtime in this case) on hold.

Our pity and concern for people may be overwhelming, but pity alone is not action, nor is it love.

The photo above is obviously not of the woman in Paris, but this Nicaraguan man is symbolic of the brokenness and poverty in which we each may find ourselves at times — and which surely, when we look around, will find in other people. In your travels, don’t be afraid to travel the hundred feet to these people. You could save a life, a tear, and maybe bring a needed smile to their face or a soothing touch to their shoulder.

And in the end, this may be more meaningful than looking at an Eiffel Tower.

Posted by | Comments (9)  | April 8, 2010
Category: Ethical Travel, Images from the road, Notes from the collective travel mind

9 Responses to “Coming across hurting people”

  1. Katy Says:

    Eiffel tower in January? Exciting place/time to visit!

  2. Kate Says:

    Wow, what a powerful post, thank you!

  3. melissa Says:

    we can learn from your lesson – thanks for sharing.

  4. Nicolaï Says:

    Well said.

  5. Carousel — 04.09.10 : evolution you Says:

    […] Coming across hurting people: Every now & again, I come across a piece that touches me in a deep, profound way. Usually the […]

  6. Dena Says:

    Hey Joel,

    Great post! I just want to let you know that I featured it in my weekly Friday Carousel of links here:

    I think that my readers will really enjoy this.

    Have a great weekend!

    In love & light,

  7. Kyle Crum Says:

    Good post. It’s always good to be reminded of the human element when traveling and to not look past it as we clamber to see more sights.

  8. Joya Says:

    Such a good reminder to travelers. We should all remember to help others even when we are far from home and not just get caught up in the sites.

  9. Carousel — 04.09.10 | evolution you Says:

    […] Coming across hurting people: Every now & again, I come across a piece that touches me in a deep, profound way. Usually the […]