I did a really bad thing this past Sunday.
Well, for the purposes of accuracy, I actually failed to do a really good thing.
I didn’t protect a child.
The first time I saw the little girl, I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and keep her safe. But I didn’t. Instead, I, along with most of the people near me, kept eyes on her rather than on the baseball field, where the Colorado Rockies were beating the Washington Nationals.
The toddler wobbled with the gait typical of children who have recently learned to walk, and she held her arms out for balance.
The reason she had our attention was that, instead of walking across a floor, she was navigating steep, concrete steps in an upper section of the ballpark. With every unsteady step she took, my heart would skip a beat. The twenty-something woman sitting next to me would sharply suck in her breath every time the child teetered.
The toddler’s mother, on the other hand, seemed completely unconcerned as she sat drinking beer and watching the game. Even when the toddler grabbed the handrail and let her legs swing back and forth, the woman absently glanced at her daughter then returned her attention to the ball field.
I could have said something. I could have done something. But I didn’t.
Instead, I simply let my voice blend in with the chorus of others quietly whispering horror.
And I have no idea why.
I’m the mom the who won’t start the car engine until everyone is wearing seat belts and who appreciates other parents keeping my children in line.
I’m the professional who has committed her career to promoting the concept that members of a community should take responsibility for each other.
And I’m the licensed social worker who is obligated to protect those who can’t protect themselves.
Yet, during the relatively brief moment in time I shared with that little girl, I failed her in every respect. I also failed her mother, who I believe loves her daughter and was probably tired at the exact wrong time. She also had a little boy, a few years older than the girl, who seemed completely content as he sat next to his mother watching the baseball game. The father arrived during the third inning, and by the seventh inning, the entire family was gone.
Each member left uninjured and, apparently, happy. My negligence hadn’t resulted in disaster, yet I still feel guilty.
So now, I have a choice.
Instead of focusing on the guilt, I can practice the art of forgiveness.
I can forgive myself and all those people like me. People who sometimes follow the crowd instead of doing what’s right. People who, just for a moment, want to pretend that bad things don’t really happen. People who suffer from that human condition called imperfection.
The great thing about imperfection is that it always provides room for improvement and the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
I’ve certainly learned from mine. I know for a fact, the next time I see a child, any child, in a dangerous situation, I will take some kind of action.