A girl knocked on my door one odd Sunday after a night where very few in my building chose to stay in. She seemed a bit distressed that I was not the person she was looking for, and stumbled a bit over her statements, but ultimately she managed to do what she came to do: express a deep sense of gratitude.
In perhaps not the most polite words, she told me how last night she was not in her right mind and that my roommate had somehow greatly assisted her. The details were rather vague as it was likely she was uncomfortable telling the whole story to a stranger, but she wrote down a heartfelt—if yet again crude—thank you on a sticky note and handed me a small wad of one dollar bills.
She told me to thank my roommate for her and asked one more time when she would be back before leaving.
Though still missing the complete picture, the scenario itself was easy enough to piece together.
It is a well-known fact that college students—particularly college freshmen—have a tendency to party and indulge in many of the pleasures they were denied under parent supervision. Though statistically, the percentage of first-year drinking is lower than in previous years, it is still not difficult to find someone who can attest to at least a slight buzz on their first week of freedom. The university itself does little to hide this and chooses to take a pragmatic approach, often giving advice regarding drinking habits rather outright banning drinking.
Various programs during Orientation are dedicated to drinking responsibly and knowing your own limits, but a few also describe taking care of someone else. The designated driver is a pretty well-known term, but even without being a designated caretaker—and perhaps with even a bit of inebriation on their side—people can still choose to take care of others. Though it may be hard to argue that taking a drunken wanderer under your wing is beneficial to you, it undeniably is to them.
Someone who does no harm should not be punished for opting not to be “responsible” with their drinking, legality aside. Not everyone goes out with a group or a caretaker ready and waiting to assist them, and I find myself genuinely impressed with those passing by who volunteer themselves, even if for only a few moments.
The moral of this is not the same “drink responsibly” ad nauseam that has been reiterated however many times on any given after-school special, but it is a lesson of compassion and maybe even community, even when not on the right end of sobriety yourself.
There is still the awkwardness, the apprehensiveness about whether or not the choice to reach out is the right one, and very little can be done to remove those obstacles. It is unlikely that the person you assisted, whether it was needed or not, will come back to you, but the gratitude I experienced second hand—the thankfulness, the relief, the unnamed fear of what otherwise would have happened—is more than enough to make a case for me personally to attempt to be that awkward bystander-caretaker if the opportunity presents itself.
I told my roommate about the girl later. Her reaction was casual. In her similarly foggy story, she mentioned how the girl had been more or less abandoned by a group walking by, left for her and a friend to take care of. The mundane side of the story detailed itself in how the girl was not a particularly sociable drunk and had made odd demands for pizza before eventually being walked to her room. The insidious side was how the group passed by to hand her off, how more people from where she lived simply strolled on and how everyone around declared it was not their problem.
I point this out only to show the counterpoint. It is easy to think that you, personally, would jump to assistance in a crisis. It is easier to see yourself as an awkward bystander or somehow absolve yourself of responsibility in a situation—if you are drunk as well then how can you be of any help?—but the story, the rescue, is not about you and your personal apprehension. It is about the person you chose to help and that person making it home safely to maybe someday come knocking on your door to offer an embarrassed thank you.