Tonight, I came face to face to the fact that I’m a coward.

Tonight, I found the unavoidable truth that when it came the time to act, I didn’t. Or at least not in time. I found myself more worried about getting myself into trouble than about helping.

Tonight, I had to face the fact that when the building is burning, I’m selfish.

It’s ironic. I guess it always is. We always believe ourselves to be better. We always have this idolized image our ourselves, and we think that – of course– when a moment of danger arises, we will rise to the challenge and do what is right, no matter the consequences.

It’s hard. It’s painful to be confronted to the reality that we are as bad as the people we sometimes complain about.

We say, “How come she didn’t do anything to help?”

“He was there. He should have done something.”

And the worst, “I don’t understand how people let bad things happen, and twiddle their thumbs while others suffer.”

I know. I just found out I’m one of them.

I always prided myself of how I could keep a cool head when something happened. Like when my mom had to be hospitalized for an acute appendix and I took care of things with no problem.

I guess it is different when you don’t know the other person…

Tonight, I learned I’m a coward.

Instead of acting right away, I first tried to assess the situation in the stupidest way. As if looking out the dark window towards my neighbor’s backyard was going to give me a clue about what was happening on the other side of the street. Of course, it wouldn’t have.

I was too busy trying to decipher if the screams of the girl/woman were of real danger or just pissed off at someone. What if I got into trouble for calling the police over nothing? Better be sure… Stupid.

Sometimes it’s better to overreact than to stay still.

The screams were too loud for someone who was just pissed. They were too shrill and too long.

There were three long winded screams, while a car–probably my neighbor– slid into the parking lot behind my house.  Then the same, or a similar voice to the screams, cursing. A door slammed.

Then silence.

I closed the blinds that had afforded no view, and paced. What should I do? Should I call? Should I let it pass? Maybe it was someone just relieving stress. Maybe it was nothing. I could only hope it was nothing.

My heart was beating. My throat was parched all of a sudden.

If I called, what could I say? I didn’t know much. I had just heard some screams. What help could I be?

What if all of us minded our own business and nobody called? What if she was getting hurt and I was there pacing, wasting precious time?

Some part of me was afraid of causing trouble for myself by calling. I didn’t want to be involved in other people’s business. The other part of me struggled to own up, to do the right thing despite the consequences. After all, what possible kind of trouble could I get into by simply calling and reporting what I had heard?

I still didn’t find my courage.

So, I did what I always do when in doubt. I called a friend and asked for advice. And the advice was the same my heart had already been telling me, only I had been too comfortable in my selfishness to pay attention.

I called. Finally.

To my relief and my everlasting shame, many others had called ahead of me. The police were already on the way to investigate.

I am grateful for the people who were brave, who didn’t put themselves first, and did the right thing.

It was 9:31 pm when I heard the first scream.

It was 9:37 pm when I finished the 20-second call to the police.

6 minutes… It doesn’t seem much, right?

But when someone could be hurt. It’s a lifetime.

Tonight, I learned that I’m a coward.

Tonight, I had a personal explanation to the hundreds of times I had asked myself how people can permit bad things to happen.

Now I knew, and I hate the answer. It’s painful.

I can say I froze; that I was unsure of what to do.

But I have to be honest. Yes, I was unsure of what to do, but deep down, I was afraid of getting out of my well-delineated circle of comfort to extend my hand to help another person; even if the help wasn’t much, even if the help was as simple as a quick phone call.

I am still appalled at the fact that people let bad things happen to others; of how they can look away and pretend that nothing is happening. I am more appalled that I turned out to be one of those people.

I did end up calling, you could say. But I had to had someone else’s encouragement first…

Before tonight, I liked to think of myself as a good person, ready to help my fellow human beings. Tonight, I learned that I am in dire need of a reevaluation of my belief, of my behaviour.

This post is not to admit to my flaw and just put it behind me. Tonight is a learning moment to myself; a heads up that I have to change; that I have to be braver and think of others when tough moments arrive.

I pray that whoever screamed is safe; that it was nothing but an expression of emotion. Even that seem to be the words of my coward self, trying to make myself feel better about my behaviour…

To her, to those people, I apologize that this time I wasn’t fast enough in my actions. There are no excuses. Although, in truth, in situations like these, what good are apologies? What do you do with an apology? Nothing. They fix nothing.

I can only say that I’ll take tonight as a lesson, and that next time I’m presented with a situation like this, I will take action. What good are we if we don’t learn from our mistakes? If we don’t see our flaws and try our damnest to become better human beings?

Changing isn’t easy, but believing you can change is the first step in the right direction.

If all us cowards changed, and became more conscious of others, less selfish and more willing to take risks for others, we would have a much better world than the one we have right now.

It’s up to each of us to take a hard look into ourselves and find out what we are; and if you find yourself as someone you don’t like– like I do tonight– it’s up to you, to me, to try to change and become a better person.

Some people are natural heroes. Others, like myself, not so much. That just means we, I, have to try harder.