In the blink of an eye.

"I deleted my Facebook account yesterday, an electronic version of crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head. I was in a weird place emotionally, and my response when things get too confusing and convoluted and heavy is usually to pull away, disconnect, and hide. I get overwhelmed. I reach my limit. I fold in upon myself, like a botched origami shape resembling nothing."

I began this post last week, and couldn't find what I needed inside of me to finish it. That same day, I was having lunch with a friend, and we were walking back to her car afterward when we heard a thump and a woman screaming. We turned to see an elderly man lying on the ground beneath a sleek black Mercedes convertible that had just started to pull out of a parking spot. Tracy, who is a nurse, thrust her purse and cell phone at me with terse instructions to dial 911, and without another second's hesitation, ran toward the fallen man.

Tracy has a big heart. Like me, she feels each emotion so passionately that sometimes she just aches. Like me, she can't stop herself from empathizing, even with those who hurt her the most. She didn't know what she was going to see when she reached that man. We were only yards away, but we couldn't immediately tell how badly he had been hurt. It was obvious that the car had struck him and that he was on the ground. Tracy didn't know what she was running towards. She didn't know whether he was dead or alive, whether his body was broken or intact. She just immediately and automatically ran towards him. She didn't stop to worry about what she had to offer and whether it would be enough, or what it would cost her to give. She ran towards him, a total stranger on the ground.

I dropped our purses and other belongings on the pavement and my fingers blundered, stabbing numbly and unsuccessfully at the numbers on her phone. I looked up to see a small crowd gathering, more than one person talking into a cell phone. Someone yelled, "I'm on the line with 911! Ambulance is on its way!" I exhaled and dropped the phone back into the open purse, glad to be relieved of that duty. I picked up our things and slowly moved toward the small gathering of people near the car, which was stopped haphazardly in the middle of the parking lot, angled out from its space. Tracy was down on her knees on the ground next to the man, speaking to him in a strong, calm voice, telling him to stay still, not to try to move, that the ambulance would be there soon.

I was in shock. I stood there on the fringes of the situation, watching, worrying, standing, shifting my weight, using the toes of one foot to intently scratch the top of the other. I saw Tracy on the pavement, letting the man relax against her, touching his arm, talking reassuringly, but not condescendingly to him.

She was amazing. I stood there dumbfounded, purposeless, tears welling up in my eyes, not so much out of concern for the stricken man, but out of overwhelming love for my friend. I was a witness as she did what she was born to do. Even as I was pulling away, Tracy was running towards.

Tracy touched more than one person that day. She brought comfort not only to the man on the pavement, but to his harried, frantic daughter, and to the obviously distraught driver of the Mercedes. As the ambulance pulled away and the driver of the vehicle stood, uncomprehending, trying to stop herself from shaking, Tracy spoke to her too. The driver stuttered, "I could have killed him." And Tracy replied, firmly and calmly, "But you didn't." She didn't attempt to assure the woman that she wasn't at fault, for she was. It was this woman's negligence and carelessness that caused the accident. Tracy wasn't going to lie to her. I don't remember her exact words, but Tracy said something to the effect of "You just got to see how life can change in the blink of an eye. That's true for all of us. But today, everyone is going to be alright." (After all, as the paramedics lifted the man onto the stretcher, he began complaining that he hadn't gotten his lunch yet. He'd been crossing to go into the restaurant.)

Human connection is fraught with difficulty. We are complicated beings, full of contradiction and subtle nuance. Sometimes we lash out at one another. Sometimes we grasp. Sometimes we push and shove. I think of myself as a sensitive soul. I bruise easily. Inviting connection opens me up to potentially getting hurt. My sometimes bravado is merely the thinnest protective shell around my vulnerable pink squishy insides. Touch me, and I shrink away.

I have to remind myself that I do have reserves of strength, coiled inside me somewhere, just waiting to be called upon. I know I do. I only hope that in the blink of an eye, in a split second, when it really matters, I will run towards rather than away.

And yeah, you'll probably see me back on Facebook before too long... ;)


chksngr said...

Another amazing post, my friend. I think sometimes we are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Its not so much that we can't stand the pain...its that we don't really feel like having to do it again. That stupid again is what gets me every time.

Adriane said...

Don't stay in your bed too long. Enjoy your moments! Miss you!

Terri said...

Beautiful post. Tracy's actions were even more beautiful.

Tracy said...

Rachel, you are an amazing writer. I am instantly taken back to the emotion of that day.
Who do you think supported ME after the ambulance pulled away and I was suddenly hit with the gravity of what had happened? That was you.
I hope you keep venturing out there. I for one will be right there for you and will pull you out of hiding kicking and screaming. :)

Libby said...

you, my seeester, are probably the best writer ever. just sayin'. all of your blog-thingys are either super cute, or have a good moral. yuh know? and they're fun to read, so keep up the good work:)

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Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. I can comisserate with you on the pulling away and hiding as I too do it more than I would like.

Sian said...

Thoughtful, thought provoking post. I can see why you are proud of this one!

Becky said...

A very provocative post - I love the way you write.