On Reverence, Recharging, and Reconnection
The image of a crumpled bicycle wheel in the street, accompanied by its rider on the pavement, brought me back to reality. Prior to that, I’d been in a bit of a self-induced haze.
After two weeks of over-scheduled chaos, including closing out the school year for myself and my children, I finally set aside some time for introverted recluse. I had begun the day among the picturesque foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, where trail running and lakeside lounging filled an entire morning. Later, I was able to complete the reading, writing, and mundane errands that had been indefinitely put off due to a lack of time.
Most importantly, I gave myself space to just be.
No conversation. No agenda. No prolonged interaction with anyone save an obligatory wave to passing runners or polite exchanges with merchants.
I had a chance to recharge.
As I drove home, I reflected on my gratefulness for the simplicity of the day, my body satiated to a point of exhaustion that comes with the combination of physical activity and summer heat. I was eager for a good night’s rest and the clarity that was sure to follow.
As an educator, I am granted several months of vacation beginning in June and, now that my children have gotten older, it’s provided me the freedom to vary the ways in which I use this reprieve. My intent this year was to use my spare time in public service.
An introvert by nature, it takes quite a bit out of me to function in the roles that I do.
Mother. Teacher. Advocate. Community liaison.
Most days, I prefer to be curled up on my couch with a book, journal, and my daydreams. Most days, I welcome the type of noise that hums like a breeze through tree branches or the sound of my soles across a running trail; the familiar background noise of silence.
Despite how I adore my solitude, I invariably love people even more.
After a brief respite, I always find myself seeking new ways to serve. A family trait, perhaps? It’s all I’ve ever known. It’s an action that has only ever brought me fulfillment.
Mahatma Gandhi stated, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I meditated on this quote as I drove along the winding river road that led homeward.
The stationary headlights in the middle of a busy road appeared abruptly. Seconds earlier, the motionless vehicle had struck a woman crossing the road on a bike and she lay on the asphalt. Instinctively, I pulled over as I am CPR certified and first responders had yet to reach the crosswalk.
I surveyed the scene and determined that she had been crossing the road from the nearby apartments, toward the residential Greenhaven streets. It appears she had the right of way. The driver of the Lexus SUV paced several yards away, in conversation with his passengers and an unidentified person on the other line of his cell phone.
In the time that I was on the scene, he never once came near the woman he had hit moments earlier.
A friend of hers knelt nearby along with his pit bull who was trying to lick her wounds. Both were clearly distraught. Nearby, a group of women who had came out of the apartments were on the line with 911.
My immediate observation was that the victim was extremely lucky. The front wheel of her bike had taken the brunt of the impact and though she’d been tossed into the street, she had escaped major injury. Her legs were scraped up and her head sore but she was coherent and free of lacerations. Several of us advised her to remain lying, so as not to aggravate any potential spinal injury.
As the crowd began to grow, the woman’s agitation did as well. She was in shock but clearly in tune with the frantic state of those around her and she began to panic about the severity of her state.
“Is everything…okay?” She asked between gulps of air.
“I don’t know, mama. But you’re not bleeding. You’re awake. And help is coming.”
Her friend, now in tears put his head to her chest and mumbled, “You alright, girl. You good. I’m so sorry.”
Realizing the heightened state of anxiety all around, my first instinct was to sit as close to the woman as possible. I took her hand. It was clammy against mine, and we gripped fingers. My long dress became a handkerchief to dry the combination of tears and perspiration from her face. The temperature was stifling, the type of late night humidity that is characteristic of a Northern California heat wave. I found myself wishing I had a water bottle to offer her.
She turned her head toward me… “Can you call my mama?”
Mama. The word spoken in her worried whisper evoked a tight feeling in my chest: Warmth. Pain. Love.
Mother. Mom. Momma. Mommy. The universal cry for comfort.
She was somebody’s daughter. I am somebody’s mother. But in this moment, we were with each other.
“What’s her number, love?” I asked. She haltingly uttered the digits and I relayed them to the group of women with the phone as they’d already hung up with emergency personnel.
As a parent, I can’t imagine the gutted feeling of receiving that call.
They reached the woman’s mother and provided directions to our location. “She’s on her way, love. The ambulance is too. You’re going to be ok. Breathe. Breathe.”
In times of stress, I find myself reverting to the coping mechanisms my own mother taught me growing up.
It is how I recenter myself so that I am ready to give my energy to others.
She took a long, raspy breath. Then another. And another.
There was motion all around us. Noise. Flashing lights. The scent of smoke lingering in the hot, stale air from the roadway flares someone had offered.
But she kept breathing. And then her eyes met mine.
“Oh look how good you’re doing. You’re so calm. So calm.” I said.
From behind me came the sound of first responders approaching. I put my hand to her forehead for a moment and then stepped out of the way. I lingered long enough to see that the woman’s mother had reached the scene.
On the drive home, I wiped my own tears with the hem of my dress. In the moments prior to the accident, I had felt rejuvenated. Now, exhaustion was creeping in.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s why I permit myself selfish bouts of self-care; in order to regain the ability to connect with humanity.
In this life, our paths weave around the paths of countless other souls, intersecting from time to time. It is not up to us to decipher the meaning behind those encounters but I believe it is our obligation to treat them with reverence.
I may live the rest of my life in this neighborhood, and never again look into the eyes of the woman who lay in the street that night. But her smile in the face of a scary situation humbled me. The rise and fall of her chest as she determinedly took in stuffy summer air to regain composure, resonated like a universal rhythm.
The almost instinctual way that her thoughts turned toward her mother, her comfort had reminded me of why we serve.
Service doesn’t always look like a uniformed public service employee or come by way of resources offered through a non-profit agency or religious institution. Service happens all around us in ways that are neither recognized nor celebrated.
It comes in the form of the elderly woman who pulled a man’s bike out of oncoming traffic as he ran into the street to kneel by his friend who had just been struck. It comes in the form of the women who emerged from their comfortable, air-conditioned apartments to summon an ambulance and call the mother of an injured stranger.
Service is you, every time you fulfill a parenting role for your biological children or the children of others. Or when you speak up for another during a moment of injustice. Or take the time to share helpful information and knowledge even though you’ve not been called upon to do so.
Ultimately, it is when you give comfort to another with no expectation of return.
Service is necessary. It is vital to our collective pulse. In these times, when the lives of so many are being devalued at the hands of those in power, service is our lifeline.
So recharge yourself, love. Give yourself permission to rest and recollect. And when you plug back into the community around you, never devalue the ways in which you are able to serve those nearby.
You are so irreplaceable. You are so valuable.