In Danger’s Path: A Human Response

IMG_4217 2It’s been a heavy week. A week of bad news. Hurricane Harvey in Texas, wildfires in the Northwest, an earthquake in Mexico. Political turmoil that just worsens every time I think it can’t get much worse.

And, with Hurricane Irma threatening Florida, it’s about to get heavier. I’m praying for friends there who’ve hunkered down and friends who’ve joined the thousands caravanning north. Will their lives be different tomorrow? Their homes? Their schools?

All of these things made this a heavy week. But the event that weighed most on my heart happened Wednesday. Two miles from home.

IMG_4217I was driving home from a doctor’s appointment. It’s a country drive (really, everything is a country drive from my house. There are a lot of small towns, but you’d have to drive an hour to experience a real city drive.) I was on a state highway, a two-lane, heavily-traveled road.  Ahead I saw something in the roadway. It looked like a trailer. Sideways.

Anything sideways in the road is never good. There’d been an accident. I slowed. Where were the flashing lights? Police? Fire trucks? There’d JUST been an accident. Then I saw the car. Smashed. A girl. A toddler. I pulled off the road. I took only my cell phone and ran toward the car. I saw the flames before I saw the woman behind the wheel. Others had stopped. One had already pulled the little girl from her carseat, another ran for a fire extinguisher.

My mind was racing. Basic first aid training told me I shouldn’t move her. But, fire. There was immediate danger. The flames were just on the other side of the shattered windshield and there was smoke inside the car. I coaxed the bleeding and confused driver to let me help her get out of the burning car. As I got her to the ground, the blasts from the fire extinguisher frightened her even more. Once we were a safe distance away, I sat on the ground with her. I put my arm around her and talked. What was the toddler’s name? How old was she?  I told the frantic mother that her daughter was fine. I told her that she was also going to be just fine, even though I wasn’t completely convinced that was true. I held the phone while she talked to her mother. I promised I wouldn’t leave her side until the paramedics arrived, and I didn’t.

It turned out I knew the other driver, whose truck was upside down, and whom others were helping. It wasn’t surprising. Two miles from home, I was likely to know someone involved. When it was all over, everyone went to the hospital. Some injuries were significant, some minor. In time, everyone will be okay, but no one will be the ever be the same. Lives were changed.

As I ran toward those vehicles, I wished I could yell, “I’m a doctor! I can help!” Even, “I’m a nurse!” But, of course, I’m not. Yelling, “I’m a licensed speech pathologist!” didn’t seem at all useful, and “Don’t worry, I’m here. I’m an author!” even less helpful.  In the end, all I had to fall back on was something we all have: our humanity.

Anyone could have comforted the injured woman. Anyone could have spoken reassuring words. It’s easy to let our humanity show when a person’s pain is evident. When there’s blood and fire. But, where’s our humanity the rest of the time? Why is it so hard for some people to feel compassion for others if the wounds aren’t physical and the needs seem so far removed from our own?  We’re not homeless. We’re not hungry. We’re not oppressed. We’re not undocumented. We’re not marginalized. We’re not profiled.

But we are human. I pray that we’ll let our humanity show every single day.

Because, sometimes danger’s path is predicted and we have warnings and days to flee or hunker down. And sometimes it’s a split second away.

In the end, all we really have to fall back on is something we all have: our humanity.


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20 comments on “In Danger’s Path: A Human Response”

  1. Melanie

    Michelle – brought me to tears….for you….for the injured mom….for the toddler….for the other driver…..for the other helpers….for everyone. We DO need to be kinder to one another. Sometimes I think all these disasters happen just to give us practice at stepping up. I hope we learn soon. In the meantime, bless you for stopping and helping and giving the hugs and getting the mom from the car. You don’t have to be a dr or a nurse to offer what you did. It’s ALL needed and you DID it.

  2. Andrea

    Love this! We’re all on this planet together so why not help each other? Thank you for writing this.

  3. Ashley

    Beautifully said. A great reflection of finding the best in difficult times and a reminder of the kindness we can always show. Bless you.

  4. Terri Bandenburg

    Wonderfully written! You’re right- tragedy and catastrophe bring out the best in all of us. We’ve got to figure out how to tap into the emotion that allows us to love freely when there’s “blood and fire.”

    You’re a GIFT to humanity! Keep writing.

  5. Donna Papps

    What a poignant story Michelle. And in a week of major bad news stories, this one was more intimate and personal. In the end, what we have to give to each other is our humanity -and your compassion and kindness made a difference to that mother. It made a tragic event, a little less painful. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Taffy

    That young woman and her child were lucky that you were there. You have always been so caring about the world around you. I’m proud to know you.

  7. Barb

    Very touching Michelle. We all have something to give. Thanks for acting.

  8. Louise Buchanan

    That was a good read and reminder for the soul. Thank you for that!

  9. Margo Lacy Thomas

    This is beautifully written and it reflects your kind personality so much and, of course, it has me in tears – you know your Mom, right? I’m so glad to hear their injuries weren’t too severe and that you were there to give them the comfort they truly needed.

  10. Marilyn Nelson

    Dear Michelle – Thank you for your recent sharing. You could have titled it: “All We Have” or
    “On My Country Road” or “Two Miles from Home”. Each would signal closeness to your heart – We – My – Home. And, coming from your heart, your response that day was likely from the person you were at the beginning of your week, the person who spotted an obstruction on the roadway, and the person who responded to a mother in need. Given your response to that life and death situation, I would expect your humanity was forever enlarged.

    Years ago my husband and I found ourselves at a desperate road accident. I watched a speeding car run a stop sign before hitting a school van full of children and parents returning from a field trip to Dauphin Island, AL. The van landed in the middle of the intersection with the door side down. In a matter of seconds, people raced to the van, attempting to open the back door. It would not budge until a traveler raced for a hammer.
    As people helped unload the van and assess injuries, no one went towards the car. I found myself standing with a gentleman – just the two of us – looking at the car and each other. I asked: “Do you know first aid?” He said: “No.” I said: “Neither do I.” I saw a beautiful blonde puppy caught in the broken windows of the car – hair spread out in two window frames. Surely my brain closed down as my feet raced forward. It was not a puppy. The unconscious driver was rammed into her car door, and her beautiful, lovely blonde hair had spread gracefully over the back of her seat.

    What was her faith? What would she have me do? When she did not respond to my voice, I started to say The Lord’s Prayer, out loud. Others arrived, checking the engine, the doors, discussing how they could help, and I walked around the car, keeping out of their way, reciting The Lord’s Prayer, over and over and louder and louder.

    Travelers and employees of a grocery store covered the roadway, bringing ice and water, towels and comfort. My husband helped clear out a parking lot so a helicopter could land. When the car of the door was opened a few inches, I saw an envelope and found the name of the driver. Her husband was called.

    State police took reports. Details were needed by investigators. I was the managing editor of an Ohio weekly newspaper. Many times my husband and I had followed sirens, one of us taking photos. The other, getting the name of the roadways, drivers, directions each traveled, weather conditions.

    Is our humanity different when we have a job from when we are just “a regular person?” Is our humanity changed after we respond to a crisis of our fellow mankind? Michelle, I suggest you learned something new about humanity – just two miles down the road from home. I think all of us will have opportunities to learn more about our humanity following Harvey and Irma.

    • Michelle

      Marilyn, thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure there are many stories like ours out there. Each of us take away something from these experiences if we let ourselves.

  11. Gabrielle

    Michelle and Marilyn thanks so much for both your posts….I was reduced to tears not once but twice by your perspectives.

  12. Linda

    Your experience was so well-spoken! It touched my heart. God’s reason for you being there at that moment in time helps all of us to realize His role for all of us-being Christian to one another. Thank you so very much for sharing your story!!!

  13. Steph

    You are a angel! I thank you and the gentlemen and young lady from the bottom of my heart for being there! God Bless You


  14. Charlene King

    Michelle, Amanda Ross and others.
    I am Stephanies Mom, and Avalyns GiGi.
    From the bottom of our hearts we thank you in our thoughts everyday.
    Stephanie still has struggles with her recovery but thankful to still have her whole family.
    It has created alot of ups and downs in the home but Stephanie is stubborn strong.
    We have a good family bond in Mercer Co. Even if we dont know each other.
    Gods work is good.
    Charlene King

    • Michelle

      Charlene, I pass through that intersection daily and think of Stephanie and Avalyn. I pray for Stephanie’s full recovery. She is a strong, beautiful woman, and she’s so fortunate to have such a special family! Stay strong together! Sending love, Michelle

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