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Reader Voices: A silent witness

By Julie A White

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, May 20 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

A Trax train moves up Main Street in front of the City Creek Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 19, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

One hot summer afternoon I grabbed a seat near the door as TRAX, Salt Lake City's commuter rail, pulled away from the station. After adjusting my belongings I found a crumpled paper and used it as a fan. By late afternoon the air felt thick and the wide door teased us with a hint of relief before slamming shut. At each stop the train filled with rush hour commuters, and few empty chairs remained.

At the second stop a man took a seat across from me. He needed a haircut and a shave. Distinctive grey flecks in his eyebrows hinted that he wasn't a young man anymore. Even his clothing, soiled and wrinkled, had seen better days. But his eyes — those expressive brown eyes caught my attention.

He held an application form in his hand. After the door closed he began asking a few passengers around him to borrow a pen. Nobody had one. I pulled my purse closer. When he turned and asked me, I knew I carried a pen at the bottom of my purse. Did I really want to fish it out in a crowded train? I looked at him and shook my head no. He turned and asked a few other people, then gave up and sat quietly.

Startling everyone, an elderly woman seated across the aisle began shouting at the man. “How dare you ask us for a pen! Who do you think you are? Look at yourself, you're filthy, your clothes are dirty! You have no right to ask us for anything!”

His shoulders caved, he lowered his eyes to the floor, and scooted closer to the edge of his seat. Nobody said a word.

Her comments upset me. I've never witnessed such a rude and unprovoked confrontation by a stranger. She continued her verbal attack for several minutes. Without replying, the man's breathing quickened and his eyes darted around as if looking for a place to hide. I pitied him and sat there stunned. Passengers looked away and tried to ignore what was happening, focusing instead on the cadence of passing tracks.

“Say something!" I silently screamed to myself. "Defend him!” My mind went blank and words wouldn't come. At the next stop the man flew out the door and disappeared in the crowded platform.

Tears stung my eyes as I relived this short, profound experience as I traveled home. Aren't we all beggars in some degree? What mother doesn't plead in prayer to heal a sick child, the jobless to find employment or the widow to feel peace after losing a loved one? The Book of Mormon counsels us to treat others fairly and with respect. It doesn't matter our economic status. We're all equal and of great value to our Heavenly Father.

King Benjamin mentions this in Mosiah 4:19: "For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?"

We're all guilty of not helping at times or not being observant enough to anticipate the needs of others. How many of us pass by a broken car near the road and think, “Oh, they'll be fine. Someone else will stop and help.” But what if that person were you? How would we want others to act?

I learned a hard lesson that day and vowed that I would never be a silent witness again. With surprise, I realized that speaking up, standing up and defending others takes real courage. I grew up learning biblical stories like the good Samaritan and I know how great it feels to help people. However, on this test I failed. I pray the next time I encounter a similar situation, I'll be courageous enough to stand up for the meek and lowly of heart.

Julie White is working on her English degree in Creative writing at Weber State University, has a business selling artwork, loves working with people and is searching for Prince Charming.

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