Guilt: A Poem


It was a time of reunion; laughter and joy set a merry tone.
I looked and saw you, just three pews back, looking all alone.
I wanted to turn away, but your eyes begged to be known.

It was a time of sharing, but for me all began to disappear.
I looked and saw you, just three pews back, alone in your fear.
You said not a word, but your quiet prayer was all I could hear.

It was a time of merriment, but you sat in your pew and cried,
I looked and saw you, just three pews back, trying to hide.
You didn’t ask, but I wanted desperately to sit by your side.

It was a time of healing, but for me there was no cure that day,
I looked and saw you, just three pews back, heavy with dismay.
As I was thinking of what to do, you quietly slipped away.

It was a time of prayer; that’s all there was left for me to do.
I looked and saw the empty space; so, it was my God I turned to.
As others rejoiced, all I did was pray, and pray some more for you.

© sara b. healy

What about you?

If you’ve ever helped someone who was  a stranger, what were your reasons?

If you’ve ever hesitated to help someone who was a stranger, what were your reasons?

How do you know when you should reach out to help a stranger?

Photo credit: mstroz

35 comments on “Guilt: A Poem

  1. Hi Sara!

    I sometimes offer ladies or girls in the neighborhood rides if they are walking and look like they need to get somewhere –not the kind of fitness walk you can always spot. They are always grateful, once I move all the crap off the passenger seat so they can actually sit down. 🙂

    Am I discriminating against guys and men in that? Absolutely. But I’d rather be safe. You know what I mean?

    I think we should help out whenever we so feel moved to do so. We know what’s in our heart.

    And Sara — so fun and awesome to see the picture of you up on the right! You are so pretty, and your eyes as vivacious-looking as I imagined they would be.


    • Sara says:

      @ Jannie — LOL You write the best comments because they always make me laugh, even if it’s about a serious subject. Good for you for taking the ladies to the store!! I’m sure they appreciate you making room for them in the car:~)

      I agree with you that’s it difficult with men to know what’s safe and that we should help when we are moved to do so.

      Thanks about your comment on my picture. I really don’t like putting up pictures, but it’s time. I can’t hide behind the sunglasses forever:~)

  2. Lynn says:

    You cared enough to care about the person and that says much about you, Sara. Yes – I have hesitated to help before and sometimes it is all about the worrying of invading someone else’s space.

    There was an instance several several years ago in which my mother and I were sitting in a hospital chapel and my mother was overcome by tears. My father had had a massive heart attack. A woman handed my mother a note that read, “The Lord never gives us more than He thinks we can handle.” She walked away and we never saw her again. Mom never forgot that and said the same to others needing comfort many times after that.

    • Sara says:

      @ Lynn — While I agree that it was good I cared and I did, I do still regret not going back and sitting near her. She may not have responded to me…who knows, but I really felt her anguish and my gut told it was something to do with abuse. So, I do wish I had reached out, but I also see this as a lesson to me. I need to trust my intuition more than I do at times.

      I love what the woman did for you mom in the chapel. It’s acts like these that can mean so much to people and they are so simple to do. It’s also nice to know that the kindness the woman showed your mom was then passed on by your mom to others. That’s special:~)

  3. Lynn says:

    An addendum to that above. I wrestle with that notion myself – based on all the suffering that goes on in the world, but it was just what my mother needed to hear in that moment in order to stay strong for my dad.

    • Sara says:

      @ Lynn — That’s the thing about acts of kindness; they often are what a person needs at the moment and then to be spontaneous. We can’t end the suffering in the whole world, but we can reach and touch one person with a simple act of kindness, like this woman did for your mom.

      I really appreciate you sharing this. I hope others will read your comment and let it guide them to taking action when they see someone struggling:~)

  4. Talon says:

    In a situation such as outlined so beautifully in your poem, Sara, it would almost feel intrusive to inquire at such a private moment…so I totally understand the hesitation.

    • Sara says:

      @ Talon — I appreciate what you say about the hesitation and your kind words about the poem. I can’t let myself off the hook so easily though. While it is a difficult to judge between intrusion and helping when you’re dealing with a stranger, in this case with this particular woman, my heart told me she was in need of a friendly face. I just hesitated too long.

      I really don’t feel terrible about this situation, but rather see it as a reminder to pay attention to my instincts. I might make a mistake and intrude, but at least I would have tried:~)

  5. Quite poignant Sara. There are times when I don’t know how to help or whether that help is wanted; there are times I offer help and it is denied or restricted.

    • Sara says:

      @ TE — You made some excellent points. It’s hard to know sometimes if a person wants help or what kind of help they want. Also, regarding the times when you offered help and been rejected. My feeling is when this happens, at least you tried and that’s all anyone can do. Sometimes people really do want to be alone.

      I really liked Lynn’s comment about her mom and how the woman simply gave her note. She didn’t stay around, she just made a contact of caring and it seemed to make a big difference for Lynn’s mom. I think this is a good example of ways to help without invading someone’s space.

  6. Patricia says:

    Your writing made me think that it too was a prayer and then my intuition said – that is exactly what the person needed was prayer and now you have extended the prayer beyond. Ripples on the pond effect – they physics of energy.

    (I apologize and feel a bit guilty myself for not being here often. My computer died and was rebuilt at the end of the year and now I am having some glitches getting everything back in place. I lost my RSS reader and had to wait until your commented on Jannie’s blog to remember the name of your blog – I just think Sara’s place! I’M having a cuppa tea :))

    • Sara says:

      @ Patricia — I’m glad you got your computer fixed. That can be a pain in the neck, especially when you lose links.

      I like the idea of “ripples on the pond” with prayer. Hopefully, that’s what happened!

      Well, I’m pleased you stopped by and I enjoy your “cuppa tea” :~)

  7. Belinda says:

    What a beautiful poem, Sara. It’s heart-warming to know that there are people like you who are moved by other’s pain. You have a beautiful heart and apparently a beautiful face as well! Love the profile pic!

  8. Linda says:

    Sara, a lovely and heartfelt poem. It is hard to know what is in the hearts and minds of others. She undoubtedly was going through something very difficult. Maybe she would have been receptive or maybe something would have held her back. I do understand your hesitation, and maybe you gave her something powerful with your prayers, maybe more than you can imagine.

    I like your picture too. I didn’t feel you were hiding behind your sunglasses, though, just showing your free-spiritedness. Besides, I hide behind my cat.

    • Sara says:

      @ Linda — Thanks about the poem and what you said about reaching out to this woman. I have learned from this experience!

      Also, thanks for what you said about the picture. I agree about the sunglasses; I just didn’t think I wanted to have 2 pictures with me in sunglasses!

      Thanks for stopping by and have a great day:~)

  9. desk49 says:

    You asked
    1. If you’ve ever helped someone who was a stranger, what were your reasons?
    Sure. I felt God told me to. No not over the radio or a bird setting on my shoulder
    2. If you’ve ever hesitated to help someone who was a stranger, what were your reasons?
    Sure. Good old God again, yep I wanted to and told myself I should but I could not bring myself to.
    3. How do you know when you should reach out to help a stranger?
    I leave it to gut feeling and my God has never been wrong.

    • Sara says:

      @ Ellis — LOL I’m glad that God speaking to you via a “bird on your shoulder!”

      I agree totally with you about using your “gut feelings” to guide you about approaching a person who seems to need help.

      Thanks for the visit. It’s always fun when you stop by:~)

  10. Alien Ghost says:

    Hi Sara,

    “If you’ve ever helped someone who was a stranger, what were your reasons?”
    They needed a hand and I was there, so why not.

    “If you’ve ever hesitated to help someone who was a stranger, what were your reasons?”
    Not being sure if it was a real need or a trick to rob an unaware passerby.

    “How do you know when you should reach out to help a stranger?”
    Is just a feeling. I can’t say I’m right or wrong, so just go by the feeling the situation gives me.

    Funny but, since you mention it in this post: On December 31, 2010, at about 11:30 PM, I was driving to my wife’s work (nightshift…she couldn’t get the day off) to spend the countdown and the New Year’s “hug” with her in the parking lot (just a couple of minutes), when in my way there I was stopped by a woman by the side of the road.

    The temperature was -11 Fahrenheit and she said her car gave up. She asked for a ride to a Walmart nearby (they are open 24 hrs) so she could call someone to pick her up. It sounded strange she didn’t have a cell phone and that her car (which looked fine in the outside) failed in that empty portion of that solitary road at almost midnight, but she seemed freezing and desperate, so I took her to the store. She couldn’t even speak clearly with her frozen face.

    For a moment I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it to my “date” on time, but I figured my wife would understand the situation. I can’t deny it was a little strange, but it felt Ok, so how could I leave that woman freezing in that empty road?

    I barely made it just a couple of minutes before midnight, after some “rallying” in the snow in those empty roads, but everything was fine, and the woman was warm while waiting for someone to pick her up. 🙂


    • Sara says:

      @ Alien Ghost — YOU ARE MY HERO!!! I love stories like this. It is hard to make the decision to stop and pick someone up, especially late at night, but you risked it anyway. I know that woman really appreciated you stopping, especially since it was so cold. Think of how many drove right by her?

  11. Hi Sara – I loved your poem and have felt the same way many times, that perhaps I didn’t do enough or should have been more direct about reaching out. So I very much resonate with the title of the poem. But recently I was re-reading one of my favorite books, “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life” by James Hollis, and he said something about guilt that gave me pause–that there are two kinds of legitimate guilt. The first is individual, a result of doing harm to others; the second is existential and collective, unavoidable when we live in the world. A third kind of free floating false guilt exists too, he said, and we actually use it as a way to manage our anxieties. So maybe you and I are not so much guilty when think we haven’t done enough, but are rather trying to deal with who we are in the world? I suspect that’s what Hollis would say. Now I know you didn’t expect to enter into a long philosophical discussion of guilt, but you know I couldn’t resist! p.s. love the new photo.

    • Sara says:

      @ Patty — That’s an interesting concept about guilt. I guess my thoughts on this particular example is that it wasn’t “collective guilt” in that I was in the same moment and place with this woman. I could actually take action, but chose not to…even if by my delay. Don’t misunderstand me, I interpret the “guilt” I wrote about as a lesson to me and I also know I can’t help everyone. However, I think sometimes people come in our lives to teach us something and that’s the case with this woman.

      I’ve haven’t read Hollis’ book, but it does sound interesting. You should consider writing a review or a post about the different types of guilt. After all, we all deal with “guilt” in one way or another:~)

  12. Kelvin Kao says:

    Oh look! A picture without sunglasses! Oh look! Threaded comments! It’s getting fancier and fancier here.

    Beautifully written poem, Sara!

    If it’s something like walking up to a person and talking to him/her, I might do that. Actually, I will try to get attention first. If it’s someone doesn’t make eye contact at all, I would just assume that he or she wants to be left alone. Again, all I can do is guess so I don’t really know what’s right or wrong. As for giving rides to strangers, I am not sure about that. Of course it still depends on the situation, but I am not all that likely to give stranger rides. I guess I am not very trusting.

    • Sara says:

      @ Kelvin — Thanks for noticing the changes. I am trying to modernize my site:~)

      I like what you said about you would have approached this woman. I did look back at her and she didn’t make direct eye contact — she looked up at me and then looked away. Still, to be honest, everything inside of me said…”Go to her” and I didn’t. I probably would have, but I simply waited too long.

      Regarding giving rides to people, did you read the comment by Alien Ghost?

      Thanks for stopping by, Kelvin. Oh, BTW I loved the video about the Sesame Puppets and the drum:~)

  13. suzen says:

    Hi Sara! Beautiful poem, sentiment and beautiful YOU! Glad the glasses are gone 🙂 Come out, come out wherever you are! YAY you. I walk thru life with one hand out – sometimes people grab on, sometimes not, but it’s always there. Nobody is really a stranger. 🙂

    • Sara says:

      @ Suzen — Thank you about the poem and yes, I decided I had a photo sans sunglasses:~)

      I like what you said, especially these words, “Nobody is really a stranger.”

  14. Liz says:

    If you’ve ever helped someone who was a stranger, what were your reasons?
    They needed help. As long as it wasn’t anything too risky (i.e. illegal or against my morlas), I was up for helping them.

    If you’ve ever hesitated to help someone who was a stranger, what were your reasons?
    I didn’t know them.

    How do you know when you should reach out to help a stranger?
    I trust my instincts.

    I took all of the pictures except tree2. I’m pretty sure my mom took that picture. 🙂 I didn’t realize that until just now, though. 🙁

    Thanks! That’s not a man, though … that’s my grandmother, Mimi! 😛 She’s got a hat on to keep her warm. I plan on showing more photography I’ve taken! ^_^

    Nope, we didn’t name the snowlady/snowman. I didn’t think of that, honestly. :/ Blahh.

    • Sara says:

      @ Liz — My favorite part of your responses are these words, “I trust my instincts!”

      Also, sorry about thinking the person in the field of your beautiful pictures was a man when it was your grandmother…oops:~) I do hope you will show more of your photography…you really are GOOD!

  15. Stephanie says:

    Hi, Sara! Thanks for inviting me to this site. I get precious little time to really have a thoughtful discussion about these types of things. I loved the poem, and it sounds just like you to find yourself in this situation. As for me, you know better than anyone how I have helped strangers, and why. For those that don’t know me, I am a social worker so I am more likely to get involved with someone who needs help than perhaps the average person. It is also my nature to do so. It is harder not to help someone than to help them. It is also easy for me to talk to people I don’t know & ask them if I can help. I carry a lot of guilt about other things, but not for this. Maybe I help people because of the guilt I carry for other things. Hmmmm, I will have to think about this. Love ya! : )

    • Sara says:

      @ Stephanie — WOW. I’m so pleased you visited. I do know you very well and you’re right that it’s harder on you to NOT help someone. And I know you are the type of person to step forward and ask someone if they need help. I’ve always liked this about you.

      I guess you realize I’m back on FB, eh?

  16. Naomi says:

    Love this and the picture of the pews! Thanks for the invitee -thoughts I felt as I read this were of recently wanting to help someone (not necessarily a stranger) but not really is the right position to give what might be needed…hard spot to be in sometimes! Prayer is sometimes the best way to help, sometimes the only way –whether it is because we don’t know how to truly help, can’t physically help or perhaps it’s not our responsibility to ‘fix it’, perhaps the other person needs to grow, to get ‘through it’ but even then knowing we are there for them if needed is a good thing….serving others, when we can, is serving all mankind — just like the drop of rain in the pond, it can reach out to many–and since we are all children of God, we serve Him at the same time! Lending a helping hand expands our own soul too, as well as touches another! For the person ‘just three pews back’, even a gentle smile or nod of the head might have given them courage or hope…a little beginning…thanks for the poem!!

    • Sara says:

      @ Naomi — Thank you for stopping by and reading this poem and leaving your thoughts:~) I agree that there’s a lot of power in prayer!!!

  17. Hilary says:

    Hi Sara .. love the poem and the thoughts contained therein – appropriate for the 13th for me. Your picture is great – I too must get a new one put up .. just so tired and I need the bags well covered over!!

    I’ve learnt since Mum became ill to help others .. take the old boys down to town when they’ve been up to visit their wives, or friends .. though I can’t take on too much – I’d keel.

    But more importantly .. the people we’ve met in the hospitals still communicate with us .. just had the most wonderful FB message from a 21 year old, who had a brain surge and was in our six bed ward at the Acute Brain Injury Unit in London .. lovely girl and beautiful caring mother .. she also FB me ..

    My letters seem to matter to many many people – over and above the blog ‘letter subjects’ .. my uncle said I gave meaning to his life ..

    I know I make a difference .. though I wish I was a little more with it – but I have coped and have got by .. so despite some guilt I really can’t do much more.

    Just being kind, caring, compassionate, and empathetic with all will really help others .. have a wonderful year .. cheers Hilary

    • Sara says:

      @ Hilary — I think you are perfect example of someone who goes the extra mile to help someone else. You’re always willing to reach out to others and you DO make a difference. I’m proud that you are a friend!!!

      Just remember to take care of yourself along the way. I just read the title to your post. It’s the longest title I’ve seen in awhile, but it does look interesting:~)

      Happy day to you!

  18. It’s hard sometimes. There have been times I’ve wanted to help someone, but I felt there was barely enough for me, or me and my family, that I didn’t share what I had. I always regretted it, though.

    So now, even if it’s just a nickel, I give it to the busker on the corner downtown, even if he’s not very good (they usually are). Or I give it to the homeless teens camping out on the street with their dog who is obviously better-fed than the kids themselves are. Then I give what I can, even if it’s just a Starbuck’s gift card a friend gave me.

    We’re all in this together.

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