Yesterday started as a tough day for Neda & me. In world news, I read about the two year old Chinese girl Wang Yue, who walked into a Chinese street only to be hit by a careless driver. The driver paused after hitting her with the front wheel and then continued on, running her over with the back wheels. As Wang Yue lay bleeding on the street, 18 different people passed right by her without stopping to help. During that time, she was also hit by another car. Finally, a trash collector saw her and helped. After a week of hospitalization, Wang Yue died yesterday. You can see the story and the video of the incident by clicking here, though I warn you not to watch if you are sensitive to graphic violence. When I showed the video to Neda, she burst out crying at how horrible it was.
This story stirred up powerful feelings in us. How can human beings be so closed to the suffering of others that even a wounded two year old child lying right in front of them on the street stirs no response? How can 18 people not act, when even a simple phone call to the police would start the process of assistance? And in a more generalized sense, how can one not become cynical to human nature itself when we are capable of such callousness?
Fast forward a few hours as Neda and I are leaving to run some errands before meeting up downtown with her friend Petia for her birthday. We begin the long walk downtown and are discussing the Wang Yue incident when we pass over one of the city’s irrigation canals. As we cross the 15 foot deep canal, a plaintive, desperate cry reaches our ears. The squealing wail sounds almost like a child, but as we look down into the running current of the canal, a tiny grey kitten is looking pleadingly at us as it unsuccessful tries to scale the vertical concrete walls. She was shivering from the cold water and looked near the end of her efforts, but meowed with all her might as we made eye contact with her.
The Canal's High Fence
Just moments after talking about Wang Yue, here was another creature desperately needing to be noticed. Yet, the canal was surrounded by a high fence and it seemed impossible to get access to the kitten. There were no branches around either. Others saw us looking at her, but just passed by due to the seeming futility of the effort. Neda & I had only a few minutes before the store for our errands was closing, but we silently communicated with each other: this kitten will not suffer the same fate as Wang Yue if we had anything to say about it. We sent an intention to the universe for help. How could we rescue this seemingly doomed kitty?
The Perfect Cut
We desperately began to scour the area looking not only for a long enough branch, but also one wide enough for the kitten to climb. Then Neda went onto the other side of the canal and barely visible was the clue we needed. A branch that had been cleanly cut from its tree that was pointing directly down into the canal. With a little effort we hoisted it up. Despite the stares we received as we walked across the street with this massive branch, hope had started to blossom. And people began to notice the rescue effort in earnest. As I jimmied the branch through the fencing to try to get it into the canal, a passing woman stopped and called out to give me advice about a better entry point. Then an elderly woman heard the cries of the kitty and saw our effort and stopped to bear witness. A man who had just shopped for groceries also saw us and came over to help. And what do you know? The branch was the perfect length - Preaching down into the canal like a lifeline to the cat.
At first the baby was scared of the branch and fled down the canal. But by this time our motley rescue crew was unified in the effort - we all started cooing and calling to the baby to return. As we called to her, she tentatively emerged from the darkness, assessed the branch, and began to climb. She arrived at the top of the ledge but was unsure how to escape the fence. I was worried she was scared of me and backed away. But when she started moving the wrong way down the ledge, the man with the groceries knelt down and called her back. As she scurried along the ledge, nearly falling back into the canal, the man waited until she was within arm's reach and pulled her through the fence. Success!
But what now? We couldn't take in a kitten and there are no animal shelters in Bulgaria. Would we just leave the kitten to shiver in the cold? This is where the elderly woman did her part. She told Neda that the baby just needed the love of a grandma and took her up in her arms. The kitten began to purr immediately and rub herself against the grandma. Grandma said she’d take her home and nurse her back to health. The kitten was saved.
As a social worker, I have struggled with cynicism throughout my career. I have seen the misery that people can bring into their own lives and subsequently the lives of others. But I have found that cynicism is just a matter of paying attention to the wrong details in life. Life provides countless opportunities to notice examples of our interconnectedness with each other and of our urge to honor that interconnectedness through love. When we decided not to pass the baby kitten, we sent out an intention of love into the universe. And from that moment onward, everything that the kitten needed was provided. The perfectly cut branch, the man with the groceries, and the sweet grandma. And as we walked away from the scene with beaming smiles and hearts full of joy and hope, we realized that the universe had provided what we needed as well. It begs the question, did we save the kitten, or did the kitten save us?