Randomness and Exactness

It’s curious how near trauma traumatizes you. Last night I helped save a man’s life. I was on my way home in an Uber with another passenger named Austin and the driver whose name is Jean. Austin and I had just come from filming something in K-town together. We were sharing a car to Brooklyn, with me going to Dumbo and Austin going to Bushwick.

As we conversed about unimportant topics such as where trends start in relation to the city, Jean, the driver, suddenly exclaimed, “Oh my God, that man just fell!” At which point we saw an elderly man lying in the middle of 30th Street near First Avenue.

The driver pulled the car aside and he and I jumped out of the car as many other cars were coming directly at the man. Jean left the car on, so Austin stayed nearby. The elderly man was wearing a gray jacket blending him into the same color of the street. The first SUV clearly did not see the elderly man as the front left wheel of the SUV came within inches of the man’s head. No K-drama exaggeration here – within inches of his head. Witnessing this near death experience was traumatic.

As happens in traumatic moments, adrenaline kicked into high gear as Jean and I jumped out of the car. I immediately stopped in the middle of the street and put my hand up to stop the many oncoming cars while Jean went directly to the man. Jean and I then helped the man up. He had fainted and couldn’t remember falling. He was bleeding from his head and his hand. He was unable to walk on his own. We gingerly helped him get into the Uber and drove him to Bellevue hospital. All the while, the man kept asking questions about the fall. He told us he wasn’t feeling well and so had left his apartment to walk to Bellevue, when he fell.

After we helped the elderly man out of the car at the emergency room entrance, Jean and Austin made sure he got taken care of by hospital personnel. I got back in the car, as Jean had left the engine running again. The moment I sat in the car, adrenaline no longer necessary, my brain started trying to process all that had just happened – and I couldn’t. I was freaked out, to say the least. Witnessing near death will freak you the f@#$ out. The image of the SUV running over the man’s head kept playing in my head. (And still does.) I felt like screaming. I needed another drink.

When we were all back in the car, Austin and I were very concerned about Jean. He was extremely shaken up and said he needed to go home after he dropped us off. There wouldn’t be two stops for us anymore. Austin and I both needed another drink and Jean needed to get home.

This entire incident is making me reflect on the randomness and exactness of life. Rewind to back at the filming prior to the Uber ride. At the end of the shoot, I (some of you may not be surprised to know) suggested to the group of four of us that we should get another bottle of soju. The rest of the group was all tired and so we decided against it. Randomness. I know it sounds dramatic but that’s because it is – had we decided to imbibe further, that elderly man probably would have died. No other cars stopped to help the man because no one saw him on the street. Another random fact that helped to save the man’s life, is that he fell somewhat in front of a parade barrier. Who knows why the parade barrier was in the middle of the street but it was a little behind the man and to the left. Had the barrier not been there, the cars would have driven straight over the man.

The exactness of the timing needed for Jean, the driver, to see the man fall makes me think there really is no randomness to life, at all. Some Buddhists believe that every person you come across in this life, you knew in a former life. Last night was the first time I met Austin. Yet now because of this shared experience we feel bonded as framily (friends who are family.) Random or exact?

In the intensity of the experience we never even found out the elderly man’s name. I can’t help but think what a sad way that would have been for him to die. Alone in the middle of a New York City street. Loneliness in the city was another topic covered earlier in the evening. I can only assume that the elderly man lives by himself? He said he wasn’t feeling well which is why he was trying to get to the hospital. Did he not have a significant other, or a friend, to call? Someone to say that, perhaps, he should call an ambulance instead of trying to walk to the hospital. Or even better, someone to take him to the hospital. To have a lifetime of memories and experiences only to end up alone trying to get yourself to a hospital is just depressing.

Who knows, maybe I’m wrong and for whatever reason, the elderly man just wanted to get to the hospital by himself. But there was no mention of a significant other. He did mention that his dad had been a diplomat. I think he was somewhat embarrassed both by the actual fall and because he didn’t remember it. Manhattan’s elderly population, 65 and older, is projected to increase by almost 58% in 2030 and that’s just Manhattan! (nyc.gov) As the elderly population continues to grow, perhaps, we as a city need to reassess how we assist the aging population.

My takeaways from this experience are many and I continue to process it. What affects me the most though is thinking about trauma and its effects upon a human being. Even in re-telling this story, I know that those who were not there will not be able to fully understand the weight of the experience. This is why we can hear about tragedies throughout the world and remain detached.

Of course, when thinking about trauma, I have to think about my adoption. Though all adopted people have their own unique experiences, we all start with the trauma of being taken away from our mother’s. Fact. Point blank fact. Anyone being taken away from their mother has experienced trauma. While some of us may become content adults and overcome this trauma, many of us do not. The trauma follows us like a permanent shadow wherever we may go. Sometimes because of this we are called angry (and why shouldn’t we be angry?) Or we may be dismissed because we are thought of subconsciously as difficult adult/children. The adoptee struggle can be so real. My hope is that others, outsiders, can remember that. Let’s remember that many of us have primary trauma that we carry with us everyday.

Another takeaway from the experience last night is this – the power of compassion/kindness/humanness.

I saw compassion from Jean toward the elderly man, I saw compassion from me toward the elderly man, from Austin toward the elderly man. I saw compassion from me and Austin toward Jean. I saw compassion between myself and Austin. Circles of compassion. I hope the elderly man from last night continues to be shown compassion for the remainder of this lifetime. Compassion saved a life last night.

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Julie Young is a former litigation attorney and currently works full-time in the nonprofit sector.  Additionally, Julie is a writer and speaker. She serves on the Board of Nazdeek and is an Advisory Board Member of All Together Now.  Julie holds a B.S. degree in Psychology from Fordham University and a J.D. degree from Cardozo School of Law.  She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and twins.