Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Am I a Helper?

A week and a half ago, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in my living room doing some prep work for Sunday's worship service, while Bob was upstairs in the office working as well.  And then a major event took place.

It was fairly quick, in just seconds a series of sounds came from the neighborhood - the revving of an engine, the squealing of tires as breaks were slammed, and a loud crash.  The crash was so loud you could almost feel it.  I knew instantly that it came from very, very, very close by.  I jumped up from my chair, looked out the window - saw a completely smashed up red sports car and another SUV with what looked like smoke coming out.  I grabbed my phone, my shoes and ran out the door.

By the time I ran across the lawn, only seconds after the crash, the driver of the SUV, a middle age woman, was yelling about helping get her mom, the front passenger, out of the car fearing the car was on fire and she was trying to pull her mom out of the front seat.  I immediately helped brace the mom and lie her down as gently as possible on the embankment in front of the house, among the daffodils which were starting to turn brown around the edges.  I then called 9-1-1.  While I was being transferred to the right person, I heard another neighbor yell that 9-1-1 was on the way. But since I was with two of the injured, I was giving them updates about their conditions.  Over the course of the next few minutes, which seemed to take forever as the EMT, police and other emergency personal arrive, I grabbed a pillow for the mother, helped the father call the other daughter on his cell phone as he was too shaken to dial, help the daughter try and be a little calmer, and generally just checked out the family, the entire time actually feeling like I was being unhelpful as I didn't know what to do.

Once the emergency personal arrived, I backed off, stood with the neighbors and eventually went back into the house, and at some point I grabbed my pillow from the lawn and returned it to wear it normally sits on my living room couch.  Hours later, the cars were towed away, and a week and a half later a bunch of sand remains on the street in front of my house that was laid down by the clean up crew to help absorb the gas that had leaked from one or both of the cars. But that was about all that was known about what happened to the people in the crash.

Neighbors were asking neighbors if they heard any updates.  A small picture of the cars with a brief description of the accident was in the local paper, but no updates about those who were injured. Then on Sunday, I heard from a parishioner that the mom and dad live at the senior housing complex just up the road and the mom was in their nursing unit and I was told her name.

So on Monday I went to visit.

I went mainly out of my own curiosity - How were they? Would they be okay?

But what happened, well, I received a huge gift.

I walked into the room and another daughter was visiting.  I said "Hi I'm Becca, your family's accident happened right in front of my house." Before I could say anything else, the daughter's eyes welled with tears as she said "Oh I have to give you a big hug." and I was immediately embraced by this stranger. It was not one of these quick hugs but one of those bear hugs that you give to someone after they have rescued you from harm.

Her mom was sleeping but her daughter and I went into the sitting area. Over the next half hour I heard about how her parents and sister were doing physically and emotionally but mainly I heard a lot of gratitude.  Myself and other neighbors were call guardian angels and how I was dubbed the "young woman with the pillow".  The mom has some major broken bones but she is determined to get better and do her physical therapy, the dad is back home and the daughter who was driving is physically fine but both daughters have been filled with so much stress due to seeing their parents in the hospital as well as financial stress related to crashed cars and missed work days as they have spent time at their parents' bedsides.

At one point she said "My dad is just really angry about the other driver and I have to keep reminding him 'remember what Mister Rogers said.'" It wasn't until after I left and was retelling the story to some neighbors and Bob, that it hit me what she was talking about.  She was referring to the quote from Mister Rogers that has made the rounds after various tragedies:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
And I realized she was calling me a helper.  Me the person who in the moment felt like I was so unhelpful - un-knowledgeable about what medical attention to give, unable to make the emergency vehicles come quicker, unable to turn back time and make the other car drive at a normal speed. And yet she was calling me a helper.

It is really humbling.  I'm not a helper, I'm far from a hero, I was just one of the people who were home when the accident occurred. But maybe we are often the most important helpers when we feel the least helpful, solely because we are there.