Reprinted with permission from Dr. Naomi Wolf’s Substack.com.
Last Thursday afternoon, in the quiet neighborhood in an area of Salem, MA, where my husband has a little place in which we hang out when we spend time with my wonderful stepson, I foolishly decided to go for a run with our puppy.
Loki is ten months old, and he is a ‘Shi-Poo’ — a Shitzu Poodle mix, an adorable combination; though the name of the breed, clearly coined so as to avoid making nine-year-old boys giggle, is as silly and pretentious as ‘NoHo’ or ‘DUMBO.’
Loki is very different from the much-mourned Mushroom. Where the late Mushroom was, certainly in his elder years, a judgmental, eccentric Oscar Wilde character, Loki is all a young Jimmy Stewart; wide-eyed innocence, good intentions, purity of heart.
Brian keeps up a narration of the excited, tolerant inner monologue of Loki, just as he did with an equally funny, finicky and censorious inner monologue for Mushroom. Where Mushroom would gaze at us with relentless hostility until we broke down psychologically and yielded any delicious human food in our possession, Loki’s voice is something like: ‘I see you guys are having steak tips! I’m having puppy chow! But that’s cool! I love you!!’
Loki has long hind legs like a rabbit, or a hound dog, and he runs like a rabbit — with total joy in motion. I began to run with him – as who could fail to want to share in that delight? And I made the mistake of using a long extensible leash, as he loved to cavort about with all that length. Had I done more research, I would have known that that was a recipe for an accident.
I was racing with him a few blocks from Brian’s little flat, on the uneven sidewalks of the little town. The next moment, I realized that I was on my back on the icy sidewalk, in an agony unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life, and probably screaming.
Worse still, I could see that Loki was about 100 feet further away from me on the sidewalk, with the leash, fallen out of my hapless grasp, trailing near him. He was looking back at me in confused concern.
But I was unable to get up, and I realized with horror that I could not move my left arm or hand at all. Loki could easily wander away and be lost, or get hit by a car.
I started shouting, ‘Help me! Please help me!’ I put all of my conscious will into those screams, and I prayed someone would respond before I passed out, or before I went into shock, which would mean that my puppy would be in terrible danger.
Amazingly, I soon felt someone kneel by me. A woman had come out of her nearby home, having heard my screams. She was seeking to calm me, even as someone else called 911.
‘Please get my puppy,’ I begged. Miraculously, another woman appeared, from another house — I believe from across the street. I heard two voices then gently luring Loki back toward where I lay, and then my heart was in my throat until one woman was able to seize his leash handle securely.
‘Please tell my husband what happened,’ I managed to say between groans, and I gave that woman our address. Her wife also, I believe, called 911 on my behalf.
Amazingly, this neighbor took Loki three blocks away, accurately located our address, knocked on our door, gave Loki safely to Brian, and let him know that I had fallen. Amazingly too, another neighbor, an older man, appeared out of nowhere, while all of this was happening, a look of concern on his face, and bearing a pillow and blanket.
The neighbors deliberated about not using the pillow, as they decided that they should not move me. Meanwhile I felt myself start to sink into shock – I felt my heart rate slowing, and I grew colder and began to tremble. I felt that sense of, ‘My body and mind can’t take this pain any longer; I am about to lose consciousness.’
Then the four neighbors, working together, put the blanket gently over me. The sidewalk was frozen and my body temperature kept dropping; keeping me warm, I am sure, prevented me from going into shock or hypothermia, and their decision not to move my head also helped me avoid further injury.
The first woman who had come out to help me, knelt beside me and asked about my dog’s breed. She kept chatting with me. This cannot have been pleasant for her, as I was still inarticulate – howling and groaning.
I realized, even in my increasing confusion and agony, that she was making small talk with me, in order to keep me from passing out.
My husband arrived, and the ambulance quickly arrived as well, and the EMTs wonderfully took over, loaded me excruciatingly onto a stretcher, and whisked me into the most painful ride of my life. They cut off my winter coat, so that there were feathers everywhere in the ambulance interior.
By now I was screaming unreservedly.
‘We are in Massachusetts, so there are going to be potholes’, one of the EMTS explained, and indeed I shrieked aloud with every jolt — he was not kidding. But they got me quickly and efficiently to the ER, where, after I underwent agonizing X-Rays and MRIs, Brian and I were told by a cheery ER doc that I had broken my shoulder.
But I was so lucky. I had not lost consciousness. I had not gone into shock. I had not been left on the wintry sidewalk, my vital signs steadily dropping til someone finally reacted, perhaps too late.
What I mean to say is that four strangers came out at once into the freezing street at the sound of a human voice in distress. Four strangers stayed at the uncomfortable, no doubt upsetting scene, prioritizing a stranger’s and a little pup’s visible risks over whatever else they had been doing at that moment, and over their own cozy comfort; strangers patiently lured, and then secured, and thus saved the life of my little dog. A stranger patiently brought him home, and let my husband know I was hurt. A stranger had held my good hand and talked to me of random subjects, in freezing temperatures, for quite a long time, so that I would not pass out. A stranger had brought me a pillow and a blanket of his own, and put the blanket down for me on the icy, gritty sidewalk.
The decency of these people — who themselves may not have even known one another — created an instinctive choreography of goodness, which was lifesaving.
Then, once my dog and I were safe, these strangers melted away, back into their lives, asking nothing of the moment — not even my thanks. I don’t even know their names.
These four strangers may indeed have saved my life, or at least kept me from much more serious injury. And they certainly saved the life of my little dog.
Five days later I walked – very carefully, and without Loki — and now wearing a sling supporting my shattered left shoulder — around the corner, to see where it all had taken place. There was the ridge in the uneven sidewalk that I had not noticed as I had been running. There was the place I’d fallen, where all I could do was helplessly to scream.
I looked around — these kind people must live nearby, but I literally don’t know where to find them to thank them.
My larger point, if I may extrapolate from this extraordinary personal kindness I was fortunate to experience — is that our little community showed that it was emotionally and morally healthy. In a healthy community, humans save each other.
These people simply had in each one of them a moral compass and a sense of selfless compassion, that led them to act together with such a beautiful, positive outcome.
That is the society, the community, that sense of unity, we all used to have — at least as an ideal.
What, after all, is an angel? Maybe the angelic is just the human, acting with decency.
Human communities’ ability to save one another, to save the community itself, out of values of internalized decency and compassion, is a resilient, effective, powerful, unstoppable thing.
That is why when others wish to take power from us, they create policies to keep us apart, unknown to, and in fear of one another.
I don’t mean to politicize a great blessing I received at the hands of my neighbors, but I can’t help considering that if, God forbid, this had happened to us during ‘lockdown’ – or during some time of global messaging about our fellow humans being untouchable, or somehow dangerous to others — I might have lost consciousness, or frozen to death, and Loki too surely would have been lost.
And that risk is true for anyone in times and places that ‘other’; a person of color injured or fainting in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood in the Jim Crow era; someone suspected of being HIV positive, if injured or losing consciousness, during the bad old days when we were asked to shun those with AIDS.
The poet William Butler Yeats’ beautiful lines from Easter 1916 reveal the risk to us of losing compassion:
‘Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part. Our part
To murmur name upon name […]’
My neighbors did their human part; they seamlessly together manifested the ancient human miracle of compassion; they saved one of their own, saved indeed two sentient beings, purely out of kindness.
Let us recommit to never again glamorize any society that urges humans to turn away from the distress of other human beings, their brothers and sisters — everyone’s child their own child. Let us reject forever policies that that seek to retire humans’ altruistic, instinctive decency toward one another, by interpolating into those moments in which it is most needed, the rigidities, scripts and representatives of officialdom.
Let us forever more defy any pronouncements that seek to turn making ‘a stone of the heart’ into a virtue.
And to you, my dear, nameless neighbors, on behalf of myself, my family, and this blameless, now safe, little dog — thank you — and thank you — and thank you.
This is absolutely lovely, thank you.
Ken Willis says
Glad you were not hurt any more than you were.
Ice can really be sudden.
Miranda Rose Smith says
Totally lovely. How recovered are you? I broke my collarbone when I was 11 amd bounced back in no time.
Why did you name your dog Loki? Loki was evil.
THX 1138 says
Helping a deserving stranger in a non-sacrificial way is not altruism, it’s rational selfishness. One should help deserving strangers when and if one can help them without harming one’s own life, always keeping in mind that the helper’s life should be as precious to him as the receiver of the help’s life is precious to him.
It is immoral to expect or demand that a stranger should sacrifice his own life to save your life. If your life is precious to you then by what right can you claim that a stranger’s life should be less precious to him than your life is to you and he SHOULD sacrifice his life to save yours?
THX 1138 says
But you may argue what about first responders, aren’t they altruistically sacrificing their lives to save others? No, they’re not, not if they have chosen their first responder career RATIONALLY, in other words they love what they do because it is personally and therefore selfishly rewarding spiritually as well as financially. Then they are not altruistically sacrificing their lives for strangers. The coal miner, the construction worker, the taxi driver, encounter deadly risks to their life and limb too, while helping others to have coal for energy, housing, and transportation, but that’s not why they should be coal miners, construction workers, or taxi drivers. If they are psychologically healthy they are doing their risky work for their own rationally selfish benefit, reward, and income. Only as a consequence of their rational pursuit of their own selfish well-being and happiness do they produce a service or a product that helps others.
“The Ethics Of Emergencies” by Ayn Rand
You’re such a downer. Can you not imagine kindness, selflessness without referring to your leader, who sounds dark, empty without love.
THX 1138 says
You have a mistaken and irrational conception of love. Love is not selflessness but rational selfishness.
If YOU have no SELF, if there is no YOU there, how can YOU be kind or loving? Before you can say “I love you”, there must be an “I”. Before you can say “I will help you”, there must be an “I” who will help.
“[Selfless love] would have to mean that you derive no personal pleasure or happiness from the company and the existence of the person you love, and that you are motivated only by self-sacrificial pity for that person’s need of you. I don’t have to point out to you that no one would be flattered by, nor would accept, a concept of that kind. Love is not self-sacrifice, but the most profound assertion of your own needs and values. It is for your own happiness that you need the person you love, and that is the greatest compliment, the greatest tribute you can pay to that person.” – Ayn Rand
First Responder CAREER?? Depending on what state you live in, between 50% and 80% of first responders are volunteers.
Naomi’s lovely tribute to her caring neighbors’ altruism is so touching. She recognizes the goodness of the heart and soul that permits some to give without concern for self. That is a beautiful attribute and most people, when they are the recipients of that goodness are overwhelmingly touched and filled with a gratitude beyond expression. Naomi made no demands, and by yelling for help, I’m sure the most she expected was for someone to hear and call 911.
I know the feeling of having someone risk their own life to save mine. My life was saved from an icy death in a lake by a Forest Service employee. I certainly didn’t demand or expect him to do that, but he did, because he had a spirit and a heart to want to save other people in danger. It’s not uncommon for people to want to jump in when they see a life-threatening situation.
I hope you never have to have your life saved by a firefighter or police officer or any one of the millions of selfless public servants who willingly offer their lives up to save others’. But if that ever happens, you can ask them why they thought your life was worth saving.
Even without it being demanded.
Your comment actually does little more than display your own bitterness and lack of faith in humankind. Rather sad. There most. certainly are people who step up to help for one simple reason: they want to.
THX 1138 says
Rational charity and rationally helping deserving strangers is a wonderful and rewarding MINOR virtue, nowhere in my comment did I attack or disparage helping deserving strangers in a rational and non-sacrificial way.
You seem to be upset that I have challenged the assumption that charity and helping deserving strangers is a MAJOR virtue and the essential and most profound and noble meaning of life — it isn’t. There are higher and more noble virtues than helping deserving strangers. The highest and most noble of human virtues is RATIONALITY — an intransigent devotion to reason.
Before you can give a deserving stranger a loaf of bread to eat you must PRODUCE enough bread for your own survival and then an extra loaf for the hungry and deserving stranger. Charity is a MINOR virtue because it depends on the MAJOR virtue of rational, selfish, production. The rational, selfish, pursuit of personal happiness comes first before you can help someone else.
As Reverend Ike powerfully put it, “The best thing you can do for the poor, is not be one of them but if you feel compelled to help a man don’t give him a fish to eat, teach him how to fish, [and become independent of you and of needing your help!]”
THX 1138 says
“My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.” – Ayn Rand
Miranda Rose Smith says
Who sacrificed his life for Dr. Wolf?
THX 1138 says
No one did. My comment said nothing about anyone sacrificing their life for Naomi Wolf. What my comment did say was that her neighbors’ charity was not an act of sacrificial altruism but an act of rational selfishness.
This moves me to tears as I have been thinking about staying connected to others in these crazy divisive times. And as everything keeps going topsy turvey, when it seems there’s nothing left to upend, the call for us to put aside differences in our day to day lives seems completely impossible. But while if while they work OT to divide us, we work OT to help each other through these tough times. What if….
I wholeheartedly believe in angels right here on earth. Having had an extraordinarily frighten event of being lost in one of the famous Sacramento’s deltas on Christ Eve which has absolutely no lighting. I can’t recall the miles I put on in the pitch dark completely terrified until I came to a house with holiday lights shining. I left the car on the road and walked down to the home below to knock on the door. A woman older than myself answered the door and seeing my tears said, “Oh honey, you are lost aren’t you.” She told me to stay right where I was until she could get her boots and winter coat on. It too her no time to reopen the door and tell me to back up my car which was high above on the road. I told her I was scared to death to try. She smiled and asked me for my keys. I followed her up the drive, she moved my car back from her drive and told me that when she started her car and to stay on her bumper no farther than 10 feet behind her and never stop at all until we reached the highway. She got me to the freeway entrance, gave me a big hug (after assuring herself that I was calm enough to get back on the road). She told me to check my odometer and in about 15 miles to take the outlet toward my home. I thanked her profusely and what did she say but, “What better to do than help someone in need on Christmas Eve?” As I drove for home I was absolutely sure she was an angel right here on earth.
valyria starstorm says
Glad to hear you are going to be ok.
Just one little dark cloud…. I am going to bet, dollars to donuts, that those 4 strangers were all white people.
I think things would have been quite different had you been in a black neighborhood.
Spurwing Plover says
We used to have small dog who like sitting on the cat who would lick the dog on the belly
Andrew Blackadder says
So Im guessing there are no gangbangers hanging out on the street corner in her neighborhood…