Last week, I nearly choked to death. Not metaphorically – I literally nearly choked to death. But this post is not about my actual experience, as unfortunate as it was; rather, as the friend sitting next to me quickly understood what was going on, told me to get up from my seat and promptly applied the Heimlich maneuver, it’s about what happened afterwards. Or what didn’t happen.
We were in a sushi restaurant, a girls’ dinner – trying to answer a question that was posed as I put a piece of sushi in my mouth, I swallowed too quickly, without chewing properly a piece of raw octopus that god lodged in my throat and refused to budge. I knew I was in trouble when I took a drink of water and I could feel the water just sitting in my throat. It was pretty disconcerting.
The Heimlich maneuver, by the way, works like a charm: it makes you cough, instantly projecting the food out of your mouth. The whole episode lasted no more than 60 seconds – still, a grown woman in the middle of a restaurant, being grabbed from behind and regurgitating a piece of octopus couldn’t have gone unnoticed. Not a single person came over to see if I was okay or if I needed medical attention, while I kept coughing uncontrollably for a while.
After the panic subsided, my friends and I were pretty stunned that, after gawking like you do an accident on the freeway, everyone turned back to their dinner (including me).
The next day, as I was driving to work down the canyon where I live, a white van in front of me, I saw a man lying on the side of the street, eyes closed, very still. The white van carried on as if nothing was amiss. Perplexed, I stopped, lowered my window and yelled if everything was alright. The man gave me a thumb up – he was probably just drunk but, then again, he could have been sick or dead.
The episode made me think of a post I read a few days before, by an English woman, about the all around lack of kindness (please forgive me, I can’t find the piece anymore but, if you are reading, please leave a comment and I will link to it). She was in a park, saw a woman passed out on a bench, with dozens of passers-by completely indifferent to her, so she stopped to call an ambulance. The writer remarked – quite correctly – that our recent habit of insulating ourselves in digital worlds is creating a bubble that makes human interactions less real and, in the process, kills kindness.
As I write this, a news alert flashing on my phone details the latest mass shooting at a Baptist church in Texas, in a one light town where the 26 people killed represented 7% of the entire population. In a world that has gone bat crazy, I am more and more convinced that kindness towards one another is what stands between us and an abyss from which we could not dig ourselves out of were we to fall in.
If we let slide the little things, the small everyday kindnesses, the please and thank you, it will be so much harder when the time comes to stand up and help with the larger things.