On a cold winter’s morning, an old man sat awkwardly against a wall at Sydney’s Circular Quay station. I glanced his way for a moment and walked on along with the throng of people caught up in the bustle of commuting.
On my way home that afternoon, I saw the same man in the same place. He was crumpled over, his head almost on the ground. Two ambulance attendants were crouched beside him. This time my step paused. He was old certainly and wore a nice suit and was clean-shaven. And he was in a very bad way.
Shame rocked me. How torturous for that sick, old man to have endured the coldness of the entire day, sitting on the hard, unforgiving ground. He probably reached out to passersby for help.
No-one stopped. No-one cared. Out of sight, out of mind.
A different season and I again came across an old man half lying on the footpath, not far from where the Winter Man had been. The morning heat was stifling. Caught up in the familiar stampede of people commuting, I barely glanced at him. However, the memory of the old Winter Man came back to me vividly.
I walked back to the man on the ground. He was dressed in smart clothes with a neatly trimmed beard and only a straw hat for shade. I knelt down to ask if he was OK. His kind face looked at me.
Beside him, a takeaway cup of coffee and sugar sachets lay open. A flow of people kept walking by.
He regained consciousness, albeit weakly, and told me he was diabetic and it might be a good idea to call an ambulance, which I did – it was a few minutes away.
In barely a whisper, he said to me, “Nobody stopped. Thank you.”
Fighting back tears, I asked his name.
“Greg,” he said.
We looked into each others eyes for a moment. Volumes were spoken without a word being uttered.
I saw a proud man who didn’t like what was happening to him. As the approaching ambulance’s siren proclaimed the arrival of help, a number of emotions rushed at me. I felt sadness tugging at my heart for the Winter Man and shame that I had almost walked past another person in need.
I was amazed that it had been so easy to be helpful.
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