As I write this article, the Friday 13th massacre in Paris just happened. Whenever there is a disaster either natural or man-made, I feel much more vulnerable and as a coping mechanism, I focus on the heroes. The ones who, while running for their lives, turn and grab the hand of someone. That choice often means life instead of death for a total stranger.
I was reading about a man at Bataclan who had been shot in the elbow and fell to the floor. From that vantage point, he could see the three gun men cold-bloodedly shooting those who lay around him. He rose up and ran for the exit, which was blocked by all those who were desperate to be outside and away from the deranged terrorists. He worked at moving forward and finally he felt the night air on his hand. And he thought, this is how I’ll die. Then, from outside, someone grasped his hand and pulled mightily. Pulled him right out of the body-parts-jumble that kept the people from escaping, and he landed, free and alive in the alley.
I watched a video of a pregnant woman dangling inexplicably from a window sill far enough away from the ground that if she lost her grip would mean her death. She held there for long moments. I found myself counting the seconds under my breath because, from my time in the gym, I knew that after thirty seconds of holding one’s weight, things get dire pretty quickly. She held and called for almost two minutes. Finally, a stranger made the terrifying journey outside of the windows toward her, reached down, and suddenly she was safe.
These are the extremes hopefully none of us will experience. But as I learn about these events, it stirs a memory for me. One that to this day, ten years later, when I think about it, affects me as if I’m back in that moment. My eyes are red now, tears streaming down my face, it is that strong of a memory. I experience this overwhelming emotion every single time this event bubbles up for me.
I had surgery on my knee and my husband took me home. As I came back to awareness from the pain killers, I looked at my little girl, and I knew that she was about to die. I knew it as sure as I knew that I had a heart pumping blood.
It took me some time to convince anyone to listen to me – understandable to anyone who’s been near someone coming out of surgery. It took some more time to get the doctor to come to the same conclusion that I had come to. And it took time to get my daughter into the emergency department and under the care of the doctor who ultimately saved her life.
In all of that action and noise and horror, there was a moment which I would like to share. The doctor realized that my daughter had keto-acidosis -- a life threatening event which often precipitates the diagnosis of type-one diabetes. The ED doctor called my pediatrician so that she could be the one who broke the news to me, I guess because we had a rapport and I trusted her. The nurse who came to bring me to the phone must have known that the life-changing message was going to be passed through that receiver. And when I put the phone to my ear, she lined her body up with mine. She didn’t hug me, or lean on me, or invade that moment. But there was no space between where she stood and where I did, no light or air between our bodies.
I honestly don’t know what would have happened to me in that soul-fragile moment had she not done exactly that. It was so deeply human. It kept me sane. Thinking my six-year-old was going to die and then knowing that if she didn’t die that day, then she would be faced with this terrible disease . . .well you parents know. I don’t need to say anymore from that perspective.
But I’m telling you this story for a writerly reason. Sometimes the hand that is held out saves a life in an overt way like the heroes in Paris, and sometimes the gesture seems smaller – but it’s not. I can’t think of a time in my life when I have been touched so meaningfully -- that was as poignant to me. I never knew the nurse's name. I can’t remember her face. I was in shock, and I was desperate, and she was my anchor. That’s all I knew then, and all I know now.
When writing moments of personal desperation -- scenes that are explosive like the night of the Paris attacks, or scenes that are quiet like a mom, standing with a phone pressed to her ear at the hospital nurses' station – I always think about how I can include a tiny-gesture hero. The hero that with a brief moment of contact changes things enough that they are forever a vivid part of that recipient's story.
May you be blessed (whatever that might mean to you) and safe.
(Message from Fiona to Eric: I would prefer not including anything with this article that would promote me or my books - I just wanted to share it as is)
Thank you, Fiona.
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com