what if?

Before last night I don’t know whether I have ever dialed 911 before. I frequently called the police while working as a newspaper reporter and I’ve called dispatch for a number of the many mundane reasons one calls for public safety services, like car accidents, problem neighbors, etc. There have been a couple of times when I’ve regretted not calling the police. Really regretted it. But I think I did the right thing last night.

I returned home on the F train a little after midnight after spending the evening at the library working on my final papers for school. As I reached the subway exit I saw a man sitting on the stairs, crying and talking on a cell phone. He looked extremely upset, and maybe a little bit drunk. I started to walk past him when I overheard him tell the person on the phone, “I called to say goodbye. I’m going to jump in front of the train.”

I took a couple of steps and paused. Then I went back inside and told the station attendant. But the agent looked disinterested. So I walked back above ground where I decided that the situation seemed serious enough to call 911. This was actually a very difficult decision to make, and I questioned my action all the way home despite the fact while I was making the call another concerned passerby asked if I was contacting the police and looked relieved when I confirmed that indeed I was.

It’s hard for someone just overhearing part of a conversation to know whether the man was making empty threats to a friend or family member or if it was really a call for help. Also, eight police officers showed up in response to my 911 call. That is an intense use of resources and could be a traumatic experience for the man in question in itself. Of course, the alternative of the man committing suicide was much worse.

I was really shaken up after the incident. I still am. In 2003 my brother took his own life, without any sign or warning. I have often wondered what if there had been just one person who had intervened… what if?

I didn’t stick around to see what happened with the police. It was too much for me. I’m not sure if I was this man’s “what if,” but I hope he’s okay.

Be kind.


6 thoughts on “what if?

  1. Please never be embarrassed about “overreacting” or alerting the police to a situation you think needs attention. It’s much easier to ignore others and get on with our lives than it is to jump in and involve ourselves (especially in a big city). You did a brave thing.

  2. Wow Laura…that had to be intense but good to hear you did what was right in your heart…suicide should never be taken lightly.

  3. Wow, thank you everyone for your reassuring comments. It’s really surprising to me how much doubt I felt immediately after the situation. Especially so considering my experience with this sort of thing. I think it had to do with the fact that after I called four police cars, eight police officers and an ambulance showed up. It was pretty overwhelming. Your feedback has really helped me feel more comfortable with this situation. Thanks again. Lots of love to you all.

  4. You did the right thing. I would hope if someone I love was in a situation where they needed help (whether or not they knew they needed help) and I couldn’t be there – someone else would take it upon themselves to do what only seems right. You should feel good doing what you did. You just may have saved many people a lot of heartache.

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