The other day as I was walking to work from the subway station, a man ahead of me slipped on the ice and went down. I knew from the piercing cries that he'd hurt himself, and as soon as I reached him, I could see right away that he'd broken his ankle (possibly his shin bone). It was at an entirely wrong angle, and when he moved, only his upper leg moved and his foot remained limp on the sidewalk. Gack! Another fellow came along with a cell phone and called an ambulance. I didn't know what else to do, but the poor guy was sprawled on the ice and I knew it was cold and wet, so I sat down and rested his head in my lap and tried to cushion and comfort him while we waited for help to arrive. He was in a lot of pain, so I just held his hands and talked to him and took him through some deep breathing to try to distract him from it.
A few other people stopped, including a physician, who took the man's pulse and laid his coat over him. After 10-15 minutes the ambulance arrived and they whisked him away, and I discovered my pants were frozen to the ice. Got up and hobbled into my office, and found I was soaked through pretty thoroughly. A little "freezer burn" on the backside, and I spent some of the morning standing at my desk and flapping around trying to dry off. (Note to self: keep an extra pair of sweat pants in the cubicle!)
As it turns out, one of my colleagues saw it all, and she told me later that I looked like I knew just what to do re: first aid. I was surprised at her perception, because it's been a year since I took First Aid, and I didn't feel I knew anything and was woefully unprepared. I just kicked into "Mom" mode and offered comfort where I could. Holding his head between my gloves, I felt a sincere sympathy and love for this fellow, a feeling of "we're both in the same boat of mortality and thus we see how dependent we all are on each other." When I told my husband about it, he said the man had had a wonderful morning, because he had experienced the goodness and kindness of other people. Well, I dunno. The man may not have felt it was such a wonderful experience. But yeah, I see what my husband was saying.
Since this incident, I've kept hearing that man's cries in my head, arising at odd times but especially at night, and I find I am walking very carefully with an eye open for black ice. I have a sudden sense of how delicate and vulnerable the human body is, so easily snapped. We're just gooey bits held together by a bag of skin, really, and our careful balance is so easily disrupted. I can't help but think of how easily small children fall and get up and fall and get up, seemingly without noticing. When I was younger I could slip on my skates or fall off a bike and not think too much of it other than the sting of the Bactine on my abrasions. I'd throw myself into all kinds of things, climb trees, go sledding, jump a horse over a fence while riding double... When did I become this cautious, elderly-gaited woman?
I think, though, that being aware of our mortality and vulnerability does have its plus side. As my husband pointed out, it makes us aware of how connected we are with each other and how completely we rely on others. Logically, I've always known I can't eat a sandwich or take a hot shower without the contribution of a lot of other people in my community doing their jobs. But I think this experience has also reminded me how we depend on each other emotionally. I'll pick you up when you fall, and you pick me up when I fall, and together we'll somehow get through life. My husband has told me before that the definition of love is to be there to cheer each other on when things go well and to pick up the pieces for each other when things go wrong. Really, it boils down to that.