Last night, I was watching a Richard Pryor performance film from the late-70s. In one bit, he ponders whether he’d give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in an emergency. He’s walking down the street and comes across “some motherfucker all laid out, slobber and shit dripping from his mouth. And he ain’t gonna make it. I don’t know, man….”
About 20 years ago, I was driving to work on an already sticky summer morning. To the left, I saw an older black man mowing the grass along the sidewalk in front of a house. Suddenly, he let go of the mower, staggered a few steps and collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk. Another driver was also passing and we stopped. I immediately called 911, though the man appeared to be dead, and EMT were there in 6-8 minutes.
But I didn't attempt CPR. After the man was pronounced dead by the paramedics, I went on to work, deeply shaken.
And deeply ashamed. The incident has been on my mind lately, but I had never told anyone of it until I told my wife tonight. At the time I rationalized that I was in business attire, I’d get all sweaty and stuff. In hindsight I fear that base prejudice - homophobia and racism – were the latent reasons for my inaction.
Last night, bad angel Richard Pryor taps me on the other shoulder and says he wouldn’t do it either. “What if you’re giving mouth-to-mouth and they die on you? And death eases on down your lungs? Death don’t give a fuck. That’s two for the price of one!”
The joke was funny but all too real. I have made the real-life decision Pryor only contemplated. Would I do the same now, 20 years later?