It was the moment that I'd always secretly dreaded… the chance opportunity to save someones life…
It was a little before dusk and I was walking home from my local supermarket with an arm full of groceries.
As I walked along, I saw an old man moving in an unusual fashion on the other side of the street. I couldn't tell if he was crazy drunk or just bravely dealing with a mobility issue...
My eyes sat lingering on his unorthodox footwork… Suddenly, the man lost what was left of his balance. His body totally surrendered as it planked backwards.
He tumbled over the curb and hit the road hard.
His skull took most of the impact…
Now I am a little ashamed to admit it, but my immediate reaction was to look around to see if there was someone else who could go to his rescue.
As I did, it soon become perfectly clear, that the 'someone else' I was looking for was me...
I think it would be fair to disclose at this stage that I don't really have much of a stomach for tending to the sick or wounded.
Just the mere thought of blood or illness of any kind can leave me feeling queazy…
I had often wondered why I hadn't inherited any of my mothers natural gifts of tending to those in need. My mum has spent most of her career caring for the elderly at nursing homes in my hometown of Melbourne. I've always quietly admired her 'Florence Nightingale-like' abilities.
Sure I have my own gifts, but it just seemed that none of them would be of any use in this particular situation…
I dashed across the road.
The old mans head, shoulders and torso were pinned to the ground and his legs were propped up in a tangled mess.
As I knelt by his side I asked him "Are you okay?"
He opened up his eyes and in a polite English accent said "Why yes… I'm fine".
He added "Thank you… but there was really no need for you to stop".
He was in a bad way but at least he was talking…
I quickly reached for my phone to call an ambulance.
There was just one small problem… I didn't know the number.
In the US it was 911, but in the UK?*
The strangers predicament had become my own and I prayed that someone would come to our rescue…
Moments later a couple slowly pulled up beside us in a white sports car…
Help had arrived just as I had hoped…
I made eye contact with the women in the passenger seat.
She gave me an encouraging smile.
Instead of opening her car door as I thought she would, she seamlessly, motioned to her partner to carry on driving.
It was as if they hadn't seen us at all.
In disbelief, I watched their tail lights trail off into the distance. I inwardly cursed them, until I realised that they had merely done the very thing I had wanted to do…
This wasn't looking good…
I looked back at the old man.
Not really knowing what else to do I asked him his name...
He told me it was "Paul".
In an attempt to tame the awkwardness that only silence can bring, I asked him how his day had been.
After a short pause he replied "to tell you the truth, this is a sad end to a bad day".
I grasped for my next breath... There is nothing like the power of Truth to pierce our thinly constructed social veneers… I hadn't had the greatest day myself and his poignant words had nearly winded me.
With little more to be said, we just sat there in the embrace of our shared helplessness…
Soon another set of head lights appeared.
A young mother pulled up in her car and asked if I had called an ambulance…
A little embarrassed, I admitted that I hadn't. She jumped on it, only too happy to help.
Seconds later a guy pulled over on his scooter. He leaped on the other side of Paul and together we assisted him to the curb.
With the old man sitting upright I was able to glance at the back of his head. His unkept hair was clumped together with clots of blood and gravel, somehow binding the wound.
The ambulance arrived on cue, and two guys in green uniforms jumped out of the vehicle. They both put on their medical grade latex gloves and dived straight in.
One of the guys supported Paul, while the other examined the wound.
After a quick examination, they told Paul that he had taken a pretty heavy bump, but assured him that he was going to be ok.
They then assisted him into the back of the ambulance.
It was clear that there was little more I could add, to the little I had done.
I thanked the ambulance guys and said goodbye to Paul.
I called over to the scooter guy and thanked him for stopping to help me out.
I then walked over to the women who had called the ambulance. She was sitting in her car with her children a little shaken.
I didn't know how to express my deep gratitude, so I let my eyes sincerely thank her…
I then picked up my shopping bags and continued my journey home…
A lingering presence.
This incident happened a few months ago now and I still feel it's lingering presence with me…
When I am feeling unhappy or sorry for myself, it prods me to remember that miracles can and do happen. Even on bad days.
I can recall the events, the characters and the few words exchanged as if it were yesterday. I've also spent a good deal of time reflecting upon my own role in this unfolding.
One thing that the experience has convinced me of, is that falling on the battlefield of life is tough. No doubt about it.
What can be equally soul crunching, is being present to others in their moments of pain. Perhaps what makes this so unpalatable is the way in which it prods our own open wounds.
The fold of experience.
This life has an incredible way of drawing us into the fold of experience.
Not merely so that we can grow spiritually, but to constantly inform us that we are 'alive'…
That we exist.
In this skin.
In this body.
With all its bruises.
Even just for a little while…
It also has a way of revealing to us that no matter how lonely this world can feel, that none of us are ever doing this alone.
There is a thread, no matter how thinly spun, that weaves around us all.
That binds us.
That patiently reminds us.
That our very role in this living human theatre,
No matter how seemingly insignificant,
* And just in case you live in the UK and don't know the number for the ambulance its 999.
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