Mt. Vernon Register-News

July 9, 2011

Sometimes, the doing the right thing can hurt

By RORYE O’CONNOR
rorye.oconnor@register-news.com

— When you are growing up, everyone tells you that doing the right thing is supposed to make you feel good.

But I think part of growing up is realizing, occasionally, doing the right thing only feels slightly less awful than doing the wrong thing.

I’m not talking about choosing a salad over a burrito, though Lord knows I could stand to make a few more of those “right choices.” I’m talking about the hard times, when you have to consult everything within yourself, your code of ethics and your best friend before you can make a decision.

Recently I had to make one of those hard choices.

A woman I know through a social networking Web site was making plans to kill herself. She wrote about the method and later wrote simply, “This is it.”

Alarmed by how serious she sounded, I sent her a message, saying that I would be online to listen if she wanted.

Simultaneously, I was talking to my best friend. “What should I do?” I wondered, my heart racing as each minute ticked by after the young woman’s ominous post.

I’d never been in such a situation before, wanting to help but nowhere within reach of the person in pain. At a loss, I Googled “What do I do if someone wants to kill herself?”

A site with a variety of suicide help hotlines popped up, and I dialed the first one on the list. The advocate on the other end told me to call the police.

Again, I consulted my best friend. Should I call the police? What if this woman gets mad at me?

She simply said, “How will you feel if you don’t?”

When I called the police, the dispatcher said there was nothing they could do without a phone number.

This is where the story gets cringe-worthy for me. I asked the woman for her phone number, asking her if she’d like to talk. When she gave me her number, I gave it to the dispatchers without telling her what I was doing.

About half an hour later, I was on the receiving end of a very angry series of posts and texts from the woman, telling me what I’d done was unnecessary and rude. She said though she talked about suicide, she wouldn’t actually do it.

I feel I had to trust my instincts in this case. I hoped she wouldn’t try, but I was sincerely concerned for her life.

The moral of the story for me, I suppose, is that there’s no fabled glow from doing “the right thing,” but I think I’d rather my Internet friend be furious with me than gone.

Rorye O’Connor is a Register-News reporter. Contact her at rorye.oconnor@register-news.com