MARKET STREET — I park my car beside the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and immediately notice a girl sitting on the fire escape on the wall of the Masonic Temple. Even at a distance, it’s obvious she’s in some sort of emotional distress.
My windows are rolled up due to the cold, but when her scream comes echoing out over the buildings, it’s still alarmingly loud. She clutches her head and rocks back and forth. I’m afraid she’s going to jump. My keys are still swinging in the ignition; I’ve only been sitting here a few seconds. I feel a numb shock set in, that same feeling that allows misdeeds and tragedies to continue in front of slack-jawed bystanders. I know I should call somebody. But who? What would I say? I pick up my camera.
A door opens and people from inside the Temple apparently try to offer help. The girl pushes the door closed. I’m still sitting there, shooting photos. After a few moments, she knocks on the door again. There is no answer, and soon she climbs down the stairs and out of my view.
A block away from the screaming girl, a young man rides a toddler’s pink bicycle down the street, accompanied by the cheers of his friends. A protester stands in Pack Square. In the cold, pale afternoon light, passersby seem weary of a city that constantly asks for their attention.
I walk through the streets with a strange mixture of emotions: Relief that the girl didn’t jump, anger at myself for failing to act. But after a few circuits I see her again, opening a menu outside the bistro. Her hat makes her easily recognizable, and she appears to be sitting with friends. I could approach, ask if she’s okay. Ask to take her picture.
But I keep walking. If you’re too cowardly to help someone, you don’t get to ask them for a portrait for your photo-blog. On the other hand, people scream in this city all the time. If I photographed them all, I’d need a bigger hard drive.
As much as we value free speech, we seem to be at a loss when folks go out in public and voice their concerns. Those voices are so many, so varied, and often completely inarticulate. But, even if no one pays attention, at least we can all agree that the world is going to hell.
Some of us just handle it better than others.
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