Picture it: The summit of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. 2011.
A woman whose eyes are glazed over and black, mouth open, gasping for air, arms limp over the shoulders of two guides who are carrying her down the slopes.
I and a small group of friends encounter her while triumphantly descending the tallest mountain in Africa, proud not only to have successfully made it to the top, but that we made the wise decision to lay down the extra $100 for the oxygen tanks — which aren’t necessary, but I would highly recommend to anyone considering this ascent. Here’s why.
Dozens of our fellow climbers were holding their aching heads, vomiting, leaning on guides who have seen this hundreds of times before: American and European travelers who underestimate the effects of altitude sickness and how painful a shortage of oxygen can be.
One of these travelers is in so much pain she can’t speak, walk, or see.
One member of our party, Doug, walks right up to her, speaks briefly to her guides, removes the oxygen tube from his own face, and places it under her nose. Within a minute, she is thanking him, standing on wobbly knees, and taking her own steps down the mountain toward thicker air, where she’ll be able to breathe on her own again. It took little effort, Doug’s own breathing was affected only minimally and temporarily, and it made a world of difference for this woman.
I try to remember this when I encounter someone who needs help. How many legitimate reasons do I actually have not to assist someone in need, when Doug can literally give a stranger the air he breathes?