My friend and I had just arrived at the Heavy MTL music festival in Montreal.
“I’m going to look for an ATM,” Will said. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
Not far from where I was standing there were two young ladies in jean shorts and midriff-baring tops selling shots of Jack Daniels. Two stumbling guys approached them. The one shaped like a bearded bowling ball put his arm around the waist of one of the servers. He leaned in and said something into her ear. As he did, he let his hand slide down to her bum and gave it a good squeeze. She flinched. He stepped away, said something, then gave her the middle finger and walked away. She turned to her colleague with a look of disgust. The bowling ball and his shirtless friend walked away and headed toward the main stage.
A fire began to burn inside my stomach. I thought of my two younger sisters and my female friends. I thought of all the women out there who were sick and tired of being abused by men.
I walked over to the young lady.
“Did you know that guy?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Are you OK?”
She nodded and shrugged her shoulders. She looked defeated.
The fire rose from my stomach to my face. I could feel my ears getting hot.
“Hey, man. I couldn’t find an ATM. Maybe I could…what’s wrong?”
I told him the story on our way to the main stage. As we got closer to the crowd I pointed out the two guys. Will looked worried that I was about to do something that might get us kicked out of the concert.
I was excited to see the show too, but my head was in a different space. In the past couple months I had lost my job, broke-up with my girlfriend, and my grandma lost her battle with cancer. My emotions were running at an all time high. Sadness, hopelessness, isolation, and anger had been dominating my feelings. As a result, my confidence had taken a firm kick in the ass.
Earlier that week Will had mentioned to me that I wasn’t the same guy I used to be. The guy who was confident enough to walk into a room of strangers and make friends with anyone. The guy who walked with a bit of a swagger. All that had disappeared in the past couple months.
And I wanted it back.
My legs started moving in the direction of the bearded ass-grabber. I wasn’t thinking. I was reacting. I was going with my gut and I didn’t care about the consequences.
“Hey man,” I said calmly to guy. “What you did to that girl serving whiskey wasn’t cool. You shouldn’t treat women like that.” I could hear the words coming out but my mouth was on autopilot.
The bowling ball glared up at me. “I speak FRENCH!” he spat.
“Me too,” I replied in his language. I repeated what I had just said, this time en français.
He stared back at me with glossy eyes. I could tell he was wasted. I braced myself for a punch, push, or verbal attack.
His shirtless buddy stepped in. “Don’t worry, my friend is just an asshole!”
The bowling ball laughed. I forced a half-smile.
“I think you should go back and apologize to her,” I said.
He seemed to consider this for a moment.
Finally he nodded his head. “OK. Let’s go.”
The four of us made the hundred meter trek back to where the young ladies were working. The walk seemed to take forever.
As we approached, the guy got down on his hands and knees in front of the young woman, lowered his head, and begged for forgiveness. His friend took photos with his cell phone.
The server accepted his apology. Then she looked at me, smiled, and silently mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
We all went our separate ways.
As Will and I walked back to the main stage he slapped me on the back and smiled. “That’s the Eric I know. That’s what you’ve been missing.”
When we go through struggles in life it’s easy to get caught up in our own feelings of sadness and despair. I had lost a lot in the past few months and it was difficult trying to find ways to regain my confidence.
I’m no philanthropist. That day at the concert I didn’t change the world. But helping that young woman gave me back some of the confidence I had lost.
I walked a little taller for the rest of that day. I smiled bigger, sang and danced like I didn’t care who was watching, and made friends with strangers. I felt like some of my swagger was back.
And all it took was standing up for someone who was having a worse day than me.