Am I a coward?

I am sitting down at the Parliament Station at the moment after a late meeting at the office.

As I arrived, I looked up at the notice board which said the next train was coming in two minutes. It wasn’t my train, so I sat down to wait. The next moment, two young women came onto the platform at the other end shouting and screaming at each other. One then jumped off the platform onto the tracks and stood there shouting at her companion.

I was about half way down the platform, and looked up to see what all the commotion was about. I started towards them, as did a number of others, calling to her to get off the tracks because the train was coming. She wasn’t budging. No amount of urging was shifting her.

In desparation, one of the guys (“Matt”, his friend called him) jumped onto the tracks to try to drag her back to the edge of the platform where I and several other men were waiting to grab hold of her and hurl her up. But she put up an incredible struggle, including throwing herself down and hanging onto the rails. Matt appeared to be fairly strong and healthy, but he was having real difficulty even keeping a hold of her, and not making much progress.

All this happened within a minute or two. That train could not have been far off. That was when I started to ask myself: do I jump down and help him?

I didn’t. Nor did any of the other men there. We shouted encouragement to Matt, but we all stayed on the edge of the platform, ready to be of assistance, but not willing to put ourselves in danger like he was doing. Were we cowards? I felt like one.

In the end, Matt succeeded in getting the girl off the tracks about 20 seconds before the train sailed out of the tunnel up to the platform. The girls, still screaming at each other, ran off and, according to the station CCTV people, left the station.

We were all pretty shaken. One complication was that, as soon as the girl jumped on the tracks, someone had pressed the bright red button on the wall of the platform hoping to either stop the train or attract help from the authorities. It turned out to be the “fire” button, which resulted in the shut down of the entrance to the platforms up on ground level, and panic in the control room.

The Metro people arrived about two minutes after the girls had left the platform. Talking to one of the Metro ladies afterwards, she told me that the “right” button to push was the red one in the middle of the platform near where I had been sitting. This would have sent an alert immediately to the control room. I have made a note of that button, should I ever need it again in the future.

The firemen turned up about five minutes after that. The train was gone and most of those who were involved in the incident, so I was left to tell the story. I am still thinking to myself about what might have happened, if Matt had not been able to get the girl off the tracks in time. What would I have felt like?

Matt made the choice to jump in and get the girl off the tracks. He showed real courage. On the other hand, I made a choice not to jump in and help him. Was it the right choice? Or was I a coward?

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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17 Responses to Am I a coward?

  1. Alexander says:

    You made the right choice. If you had’ve jumped down onto the tracks, you also would’ve made the right choice. Sometimes there’s more than one right choice.

    Incidentally, the girl who jumped on the tracks probably made the right choice too; imagine what could’ve happened if she hadn’t made a display of her desparation. I hope she’s getting the help she needs.

    It seems Metro and the DoT could probably learn from the experience: at the very least, an automated announcement could have been made saying what needs to happen if immediate contact with authorities is needed when the fire alarm was pressed.

  2. Hannah says:

    Hi David, dont keep ruminating over this, we are in Lent and red horns wants to accuse us of all things. We react to a situation as we can at the time. Thank God “Matt” was able to do something, but if he hadnt and there was no one there I’m positive you would have jumped in and exhibited titanic strenth to get her out. I know you and you would have done so. So treat this as a temptation to self doubt.
    This year Lent has been especially gruesome.
    Ps “Matt” visualised for all of us reading and you writing the words “no greater love etc” and we are greatful for that.

  3. matthias says:

    You were no coward david.You went as backup to “Matt” as did the others.

  4. Gareth says:

    I honstely wouldn’t beat yourself up to much, although admitedly when one reflects upon the parable of the Good Samiritian, one has to almost ask one self the question of just how many people would actually be the person that actually goes out of their way to be truly charitable when the odds are against us*?

    I guess not many people really would…

    P.S: When it comes it ‘acting outside the square’, it is not always so simple. I once talked a parish priest who told me where he was once stationed, he had so-called homeless people knock on his door at least once each week asking for money. Obviously, some of them were playing on the fact it was a Church who had no choice but to give them, a hand-out, where they could actualy go through the proper means such as asking a registered men’s shelter for help.

    After a while, the priest was forced to not hand out money to the knockers, because the situation was getting out of hand.

    Same goes when every time I visit Rome – I can’t give money to every begger.

    The moral of the story – sometimes things arent that simple and I wouldn’t be down on yourself too much.

  5. Kyle says:

    No, you are not a coward. What you displayed is prudence. You have a family and many responsibilities and it was not certain that you could help in this situation by intervening. There is cowardice on the one hand and temerity on the other. Prudence is the appropriate balance between them. Gareth’s analogy is a good one. There are many times we feel tempted to do what is immediately good, to give to beggars, for example. In the long run, though, this is imprudent: it does not necessarily help the beggar if they use the money on the wrong thing and it does not help for you to fritter away money needed for yourself.

    • Hannah says:

      Sorry Kyle, I dont agree with you this time. When we give we give without strings attached. It is not ours to say how he/she spends what we give, it is simply ours to give. Our intention is most important not how the recipient uses what is given.
      I have also given when I could and we have beggars in Melbourne too.
      I cannot walk past someone who is dirty and tired and broken and says “can I have a coin please” I simply cannot do it, when I know what I have. And if he uses it wrongly I know that I have given with love, ususally more than a coin.
      So Kyle we differ

      • Gareth says:

        I am fine with what you say Hannah – as long as people don’t take the high moral ground in saying that the person who chooses not to give to the beggar is somehow doing a morally bad thing because they believe they can’t give to each and every beggar, or that they may think it is imprudient to give money to somene they have no idea what it actually is going to be spent on (e.g. drugs) or they think they will reserve their spare coins to donate to officially registered charities where they can be somewhat assured their alms is going to a good purpose.

        • Hannah says:

          No Gareth I dont think anything of the sort. I certainly dont think that making a choice not to give is either good or bad. I have to do what I have to do as well as I can do it and I fail quite often in doing the best. Just this area maybe I dont fail as badly as the other areas.
          I never think about where the money is going I give as I can.

          • Schütz says:

            I myself make a practice of buying the “Big Issue” and giving to charity collectors. I would much prefer to buy the same issue of “The Big Issue” again and again as a way of giving directly to the homeless who are actually doing something positive about their situation. It helps them develop some committment to an actual “job” and to earning some money.

            • Hannah says:

              David thats an extension on the topic.
              Some might call it a red herring, though I wouldnt of course. (lol)And yes I also buy “The Big Issue” from the guy selling outside DJ in city or sometimes the one outside Myers. But actually if pressed I would prefer to give to those sitting on pavement and looking broken and sad. They are the ones I mainly give to.
              There was (though now he seems to have moved) a beggar sitting outside the Catholic Bookshop just very near the grounds of St Francis and one day he asked for a coin and I walked straight past him and went into St Francis for Mass and as I knelt I couldnt get his image out of my mind and the words “as you did to leasst of mine you did it to me” and it broke my heart that I had spent lots of money in Cath bookshop now going into mass in my Nikes etc and he was begging for a coin and I didnt give it to him. In shame I went out and gave and have never walked past one of those beggars again. I see Jesus in them.
              There is a beautiful young man with the bluest blue eyes I have ever seen who begs in Bourke St and he reminds me so much of Jesus.
              Anyway thanks for this thread its beautiful.

  6. Kyle says:

    Hannah, I sometimes go to Mass at St Francis and experience the same problem. But before I give any change, I have to decide as a matter of prudence whether that money would really benefit them. There is the possibility that the money might be misused. That cannot be ignored. We cannot materially cooperate with drug abuse. Furthermore, that money cannot be saved; it must be spent very soon. In that case, I might just be encouraging the person to fritter away that money on non-essential things. Finally, by giving away money, I may only be encouraging more people to beg. The more beggars in fact the less that each single beggar can receive. It does not work out well in the end.

    Also, as sad as this sounds, I find that some beggars can be cunning. When I first started uni, I found that some men would approach me for money, for a train ticket or for food. At first I was obliging but soon I realised that I was being singled out simply because I was young and therefore likely to be more easily manipulated. I still see this when a beggar for example will target a group of young women on the impression that they will be generous (and by and large, they will be.) I don’t think I help their situation by encouraging them to be so grasping.

    • Clara says:

      What is ‘non-essential’? A friend was asked by a beggar for money for a cup of coffee. She offered to buy him a sandwich to go with the coffee. When they walked to the coffee shop, he boldly asked whether he might also have a cake . . .

      • Hannah says:

        Beautiful Clara, I would have said “darling you can have french torta and bottle of water to take with you and something to buy lunch with”

      • Peter says:

        Good one Clara!
        That reminds me of a story involving the late great Daniel Mannix who was Archbishop of Melbourne for 46 years.For most of those years he used to walk from his home in Kew to the
        cathedral each day.He walked along Johnston St in Collingwood which was very working class in those days and was regularly asked by down and outers for a coin.One day he gave a man a coin and suggested that he not spend it at the pub accross the road.The man’s reply was”Which pub would tou recommend”

  7. Hannah says:

    Thanks Kyle for your thoughts but I have to do as my conscience dictates. I will give as I can and turn away and not look or count. I trust that the Lord will take care of that person even with my little offering.
    When I had office in Bourke St next to Myers (2 years ago)I once was outside just taking a breather and a young beggar came up and asked for money for Macca and coffee. I had not wallet with me as I was just taking a breahter so I asked him to wait and I would go and get some and be back. Well I did do that, got some and came back and the look on his face was amazing, he didnt believe I would return and he even said “you didnt ring the cops?” “No” I said and handed him the amount and said to him “please dont waste it on drugs buy food” and I walked back to my office. I dont know what he did but I gave in good faith but I can still see the look in his face that I came back. And because of this and because of other experiences (all good with them) I will continue to give as I can.

    • Stephen K says:

      Hannah, your example is very inspiring and moving. I think you’re right: one can’t control what others do, one can only so what one oneself feels he or she should do. Every time I’ve walked past a beggar etc without stopping I’ve always felt bad, because I know I’ve failed. Every time I stop, I still don’t feel good because I can’t do what’s enough. [What I should do is refrain from most luxuries, save the money and keep it in a wallet ready to give away. I should also not leave the house unless I keep at least a couple of smiles and friendly glances and hellos in reserve for those who look like they might need them. I just don’t think of either usually, but your post has made me think of this.]

      When I’m in the city, I occasionally buy a Big Issue, but when I do that, I don’t do so as a reward because they are trying to mitigate their circumstances but because I know how hard it must be to sell something, and they are the ones who happen to be in front of me. But I think it’s much harder – and more desperate a situation – when someone feels all they can do is beg, or just lie on a bench.

      There’s another post going on at the moment, on “discipleship”. I’m sure a lot of things go into the mix on that concept, but I have no doubt that what you do and your approach are prior to anything else.

  8. Hannah says:

    Thanks Stephen, we all do our best in whatever way that is. Even those who cannot give at the moment (even though they can) simply means that for the moment they cannot so we wait for the time when they can do so.
    Im always reminded that when we entertain we can be entertaining Angels. As Abraham did. So when we help we might be helping an angel, and the idea that it miight be a scam doesnt come into it because it has not come into my idea.
    Till we meet in Bourke street

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