FROM THE DEEP END: Step up or step over?

“We rise by lifting others.” — Robert G. Ingersoll

It’s important to help others whenever possible, but this week, something happened that made me wonder how many people believe that. No matter what cause or movement someone feels called to, it’s a win if they are doing something that helps others. I might not be a member of a particular church or organization, but I will still drop off a toy for a tot, a bag of groceries, books I don’t need anymore, clothing that’s still in good enough shape for someone else to use.

None of this is extraordinary, nor does it make me unique or different; almost everyone does something to benefit those around them. Even an act as simple as holding the door for the person behind us or giving up a seat on a bus if someone else needs it are good deeds that make our communities better places.

So imagine my surprise this past weekend when, after a stellar run at a blackjack table, I biffed it and face-planted on a crowded casino floor. Did I trip over something? Yes, the air. Nothing was in my path but flat, dry, well-lit carpet, and I still hit the deck for no reason. I hadn’t even had my celebratory drink yet!

I’m no stranger to falling over. Between having a balance disorder and the coordination skills of a baby deer on roller skates, it’s not uncommon for me to bash into something. Honestly, I’m poetry in commotion.

When someone falls, it’s usually a big surprise, but for me, since I’m used to it, in my head, it seems to happen in slow motion. I know the ground is coming up hard, and I try to minimize it. Then, once I hit, I take a second to inventory my face, teeth, glasses, and whatever jewelry I might have on. It’s never for more than a few seconds; I want to get right up and escape the instant mortification. This time, the first thing I checked was that I still had all my chips.

In those few seconds, two people stepped over me and kept walking. There were easily 100 or more people who witnessed this graceful transition from upright to ground, but exactly one person offered help. Casinos have excellent security, but I pictured the crew in the office watching on the cameras, laughing it up, and putting it on a loop with some Benny Hill music.

Fortunately, nothing too terrible happened. My knee is bruised and sore, but nothing an ice pack can’t fix. The jarring realization that anyone could actually step over a person they just saw fall, though? I’m going to need a minute to figure that one out. Obviously, I don’t expect every passerby to be a trained medical professional or first responder capable of picking someone up off the floor, but couldn’t they ask, “Are you alright? Can I get you some help?”

I was very grateful to the one young man who did stop; I needed a hand, and he offered it. Someone said, “What a gentleman!” Ok, yes, but for me, I never considered gender. Men don’t have a special responsibility for opening doors or offering an arm to steady someone. It’s a choice — step up to help or step over someone’s bruised bits. Almost anyone can do something to help, even if they just let someone know a fellow human is being on the ground.

I’ve talked before about grace, gravity, and my embarrassment in some of these moments. This time, however, I think a few others have something to be embarrassed about. Haven’t we all experienced some epic moment of clumsiness? Sure, but I’d rather take 10 pratfalls than leave someone flat on their fanny without offering to help. My takeaway from this, besides bashed pride and a wonky knee? No one rises by walking away from someone who needs a hand up.

Brenda Kelley Kim has lived in Marblehead for 50 years, and is an author, freelance writer, and mother of three. Her column appears weekly.