The What If's

by Norman Williamson from Bath, ON

A number of years ago, I was in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I was walking up Main Street on an unpleasant day. It was cloudy and damp. As I was walking I noticed a man lying in the gutter half way up the street outside a restaurant. Pedestrians did their best to ignore the man. People walked past him on the street and mumbled things like “There is another Wineo” and “Just let him sleep it off.”

I am an old Navy Man and one thing I learned, is never to leave your Mates in the gutter. No human being deserves to lie in a gutter no matter what the circumstance so I decided to assist this man.

He was heavy-set and completely confused and mumbling something in French that I could not understand. I couldn’t lift him by myself, and no one would bother to help me. I managed to prop him up against a parking meter and went inside the restaurant to talk to the manager. Eventually, he agreed to call someone as I stayed with the man awaiting the help that was on its way. Police arrived within ten minutes and three of us were able to lift him into their Cruiser. He was taken away and, I assumed, locked up.

That same night a fire broke out in the local Jail. A number of prisoners did not make it out alive. You can only imagine what went through my mind when I received word of this horrible incident especially since I was unable to receive any information form the police. It made me wonder if I should have just walked away after I helped him up. What if I hadn’t. 

That word “if” is one that holds great consequence in retrospect; If I had done this or if I had done that. Much like if I had just ignored him like everyone else he might have eventually stood up under his own power. If only I had just minded my own business.

I did not know this man; I had never even seen him before in my life. He was a big man, dressed like a Factory worker, a French-Canadian in his mid-fifties who may have had a few drinks too many that day.

I have thought about this man and this story many times over the years and often wondered what really happened as a result of my actions

We all make choices in this lifetime, many of them responsible choices. But, responsibility can carry a very heavy burden with it.