A Profile in Courage
By C. Naseer Ahmad
An exceptional music performance in the Great Hall of the International Students House (ISH) in Washington brought back wonderful memories from decades past of enjoying tea with a young lawyer from Pakistan. Every note on the piano brought alive something special from the days gone by.
Music and the special ambiance at the ISH also inspire one to think. Thoughts like how life has changed, how people have changed and yet the true character of real friends rarely changes regardless of the successes and failures they might have endured.
It occurred to me, as narrated by my friend back then on a September evening in 1975, he was strolling with a young lady on Q Street, NW, Washington, not too far from the ISH when suddenly a tall bespectacled young man stumbled toward him, with one hand clutching his chest and the other hand outstretched holding his wallet.
My friend’s first impression was that this guy was tipsy but instead he gasped, “I have been stabbed.” It was frightening just to hear then and it is scary to think so now.
Fear of legal entanglements or sometimes just indifference would cause many to not get involved, just as perhaps it happened in the famous Central Park New York stabbing of Kitty Genovese in 1964 who was screaming for help but no one came to her rescue.
To help a fellow human being, my friend put aside his lawyer’s caution and did something what decency, courage and presence of mind required of him. “I held him as he lay, prostrated, breathing in jerks. I told the girl to stand in the middle of the road to tell cars to stop,” he told me recounting that tragic evening. “None did for several minutes despite a clear view that it was a distressful situation. This went on until a kindly black lady stopped her car and I told her to call the police. Remember then there were no cell phones and there were pay phones only at select locations.”
While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, my friend kept assuring the victim, as his life was ebbing away. Unfortunately, by the time, the ambulance did arrive, it was too late. As a passionate young man, my friend felt really disgusted with the indifference of the drivers speeding away in their cars and wished that there was better training for the police to handle such incidents. Perhaps, a quicker response could have helped to save that man’s life.
I remembered my friend telling me: “Thus, in a matter of a few seconds, on a whim, a precious human life was snuffed. God knows the devastation it must have caused to his kith and kin, whose ripple effects some of them may never have gotten over. It brought home to me the fragility and fleeting nature of life. “
Walking back to pick up my car near the same Q street bridge, I was thinking that if my friend faced the same life challenge, I bet that he would jump in and help anyone in need.
Reflecting on those formative years, it occurred to me that back then there were questions in our conversations that only experiences of life would later answer or explain. Fortunately, my friend Mowahid Shah who is that young lawyer gifted with both the “will and the skill” – which coincidentally became the title of his book - to pursue his dreams and aspirations.
Hard work, honesty and perseverance were not too old fashioned then as they should not be now. So it is no accident that among his accomplishments was a law partnership with a former US Senator James Abourezk.
And, as Eid rolled in, I realized that one of the first greetings comes from someone who is also a friend to many indeed.