Pain and suffering are inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Something has taken considerable thought of my head lately. Maybe because it’s Christmas and my eyes are in books more than on screen for a while, and although this incident happened a couple of years ago while I was in grad school, I cannot help but think about the vivid ramifications of “what if.” Dostoevsky has certainly made me think about it a lot, which made me write his quote.

A few years ago, I was returning from my university library on a late Friday when I noticed something a few blocks in front of me. A young woman of almost similar age as mine was walking somewhere. What got me concerned was she was alone and could not walk straight. She was barely holding on to herself, walking for a while, stopping, and then walking again. The whole act got me concerned, even if it was happening two blocks ahead. Hoboken has a lot of bars, so seeing drunk people around late Friday nights is not uncommon. I’ve even seen people coming out of bars while I used to go running at 5 am.

Some part of me wondered if I should walk faster and ask the individual in question if she needed help getting somewhere because of its looks; it wasn’t looking like she had a set location to go. It wasn’t my sister, but it could be someone’s sister or daughter. I would be pissed if my sister pulled this off, but that wasn’t the time to scold a stranger in the middle of a street. On the other hand, that dark side of my brain started to warn me to let her be and mind my own business. But if something happened to her and if she just fell off or got hurt, it would be on my conscience and my fault because I didn’t act in an already sensitive situation.

And if something much worse happened, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself with the literal thought that I was a coward to let the poor young woman at her state helpless in the street late at night.

One other scenario that could happen, and maybe it was because I had read so many news and stories of men getting framed for something that they didn’t do at all, was where I could call for help/911, and she in a zoned-out state, could say I did something terrible to her. My whole life could be ruined only for trying to help without any proof. Is helping someone worth throwing away your entire life? The odds of this happening are slim but not impossible. It has happened to men. This act of one night has haunted me for years now, and although the woman in question got into an apartment on the next block, I can’t help but think about what could have happened?

I’ve tried to discuss this topic with many men and women who are sane enough to listen. Some said it was considerate of me to think that way. Someone said what happens to her is her fault. She was the one who got herself drunk; I have no moral obligation to help her. Someone said I would be foolish to throw my life away for a stranger if something had to go wrong in the midst of helping the person. Someone said, to just change your walking lane and not think about it, let her do her. Someone said they wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt of her getting harmed but wouldn’t do it if it were a male in question.

The truth is, I don’t have an answer to this conundrum. I have thought it over for hours, and my angels and demons constantly fight with each other. My angels fight for my moral compass while my demons fight to save me from anything wrong happening to me.