I sat alone at Gate C31, lost in my own head and surrounded by fellow passengers and all their backpacks and computer bags. In less than 30 minutes, we’d board the plane. After a glance at my watch, I settled into a free chair and pulled out my laptop, content to be alone.
That’s when I heard the screaming.
A woman’s voice. Frantic. Terrified. I looked up, my brain struggling to recognize what my eyes were seeing.
Less than 40 feet away, a mom hovered over her toddler on the carpeted floor.
She screamed again, desperate, pounding her son’s back. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he wasn’t making any noise. She, on the hand, was making enough for both of them. That’s when the the truth of the situation hit me hard:
Her little boy was choking.
Although it felt like hours, mere seconds passed as the mom screamed and the rest of us watched in shock. None of us knew what to do. I grabbed my bags and stood, with every intention of going to help. But before I could take even a few steps her direction, the child vomited up what had brought his mama down.
The small plastic lid of a water bottle.
And then the poor woman collapsed in the ground, cradling her boy.
I wish I could send you a screenshot of what the crowd looked like in that moment. Everyone stared, but no one moved. A woman standing next to the scene scooped up the little boy who was now crying. A relative perhaps? The mom, however, sat on the dirty carpet alone, her fear now swallowed up in post-traumatic tears.
Not a single person out of the couple hundred that mobbed the gate moved even a single step closer. They just watched.
I have to admit, I hesitated. “It’s not my business” seems to be the rule we play by these days. We’re supposed to give people space, a wide girth between their lives and our own. But suffering shouldn’t be endured in isolation. And this poor mama was suffering. The tragedy was averted, but her pain hadn’t yet gone away.
She needed to know she wasn’t alone. And that her screams weren’t annoying, embarrassing, or the slightest inconvenience. Instead, they were good and right and beautiful and worthy. This is what living, breathing humans do when they fear losing the ones they love.
So while the crowd watched and gawked, I walked over.
“Are you okay,” I asked? Stupid question, I know. But it was the only way I knew how to enter in.
“How dumb can I be?” she answered. Already she was berating herself, blaming herself for the near tragedy. “I shouldn’t have left it where he could get it.” She tossed the bottle lid on her chair. As if shaming herself would solve anything.
“You’re a good mama,” I told her, knowing it was absolutely true. “I’ve been there. These things happen sometimes, even when we don’t mean for it to.”
I rubbed her back and said the words I would want to hear. “You’re okay. It’s going to be alright,” I said, keeping my voice reassuring, calm. “You are a good mama.” I reminded.
We can endure almost anything as long as we know we’re not alone. When the worst happens, when life chokes and the world around turns dark, what we need most is presence. Those around us might not be able to do a thing to change our reality, but standing back and pulling away only complicates our pain. We need a flesh-and-blood person to step into our horror and remind us it will be okay, that we’re okay. And that, even if the worst happens, we’ll get through it—together.
My friends, it’s time to stop watching and gawking. It’s time to stop playing by rules that aren’t serving us well. The pain of the world IS our business. And if we claim to love Jesus, if we claim we want to live and love as He did, then we have no choice but to enter in. We must exit our comfortable, easy chairs and help those crying around us know, as best we can, they’re not alone.
Because when you and I stop making another’s suffering our business, we become a little less human ourselves. Suffering is an individual reality with the communal solution. We heal together, not alone.
So next time a stranger screams, don’t pull back. Instead, push in. All it takes to stop choking and breathe again is at least one person willing to stick with us, no matter what comes.