Thursday, September 8, 2005

Volunteer work

I am exhausted.

I have spent the last several days completely turned inside out with grief for the folks in the Gulf - all of them. It has been hard to sleep, and watching CNN isn't helping, trust me.

I have been organizing informational email campaigns via Craigslist and through mailing lists of local churches and civic organizations. I haven't wanted to work a lick at my "real" job, but my mind continually focuses on helping these people. I have sorted clothes, delivered donations, made phone calls, posted volunteer opportunities, and whatever else I thought needed doing.

I still feel pretty helpless.

Yesterday was a rare treat, though. I broke away to go volunteer in my daughter's class. The kids have been studying weather (oddly enough), and in the span of about an hour, me and 3 other mothers helped 27 kids make rain gauges from 2 liter bottles, barometers, windsocks, and other really cool weather-related doohickeys.

Since it was the end of the school day, I stuck around and took my daughter with me. She was thrilled for me to be at her school and in her class, and even more thrilled to be able to ride home with me. Change is always exciting.

On the way home, we stopped at Wendy's. Her class eats lunch at 10:30 in the morning (yuck!) so by 3:00, she is usually pretty hungry. It was nice to have that time with her to just sit and chat about school.

We finished up and headed home, taking the back way through an office complex. I was checking in with my mom, talking on my cell, and my daughter was happily watching the world go by when we were approaching an intersection. I had the red, so I began to slow up. There wasn't anyone in front of me, and I was just taking my time, so I was in no hurry to get up to to the intersection. I glanced up just in time to see a little white car zoom through the intersection just as a HUGE Chevrolet SUV was trying to make a left. They crashed, and the little car became like a ramp for the SUV, cause it became airborne, flipped upside down in midair, and landed with an earsplitting smash on the road on its hood right in front of my car.

I had never in my life seen anything like that. It looked like a whale breeching an ocean wave and crashing back into the sea.

Stunned, I hung up my cellphone, threw the car into park, told my daughter not to move, dialed 911 and got out. I heard screaming . . . big screams and little screams.

This little guy came running up out of nowhere and without a second's hesitation or even a glance my way, started kicking in glass, and the screams were louder. He was a small guy, and he slithered in to the front seat. I was peering in, trying to adjust my eyes, scared of what I was going to see. I could barely see anything, but toward the back, large sections of glass were just gone, and I crawled inside. He was up front helping the mom, and I had my hands on the baby seat. The baby had been screaming, but it sounded more strained now. They were both hanging upside down, and between the guy and me, we managed to get the seatbelt undone and I caught the baby seat and flipped it around.

The kid was safe, but choking. The restraint was up under this throat, and it was one of those 4 point harnesses. It had done its job, but if you don't know how to release those things, it can be impossible to deal with. The guy up front had dealt with it for a second, but I screamed at him that I would deal with the baby and with hands moving before my thoughts could catch up, I unsnapped all of the restraints and got him free. I held him close, backing out of the car.

Rational thought started settling in then. The car could catch fire, or roll some more, I didn't know. By the time I started backing out of the back window, there were about 6 people around, guiding me away from the glass bits. When I stood up, people were scared to look at the little one, not knowing what kind of shape he was in, or maybe not wanting to be involved if he was hurt very bad.

Surprisingly, he had 2 bloody knees, and that seemed to be about it. I knew he could be hurt more than that, so I yelled for a blanket, and laid him flat on it under a tree, watching him for something . . .anything.

Meantime, people were just standing around. It seemed like forever before the ambulances came, but it was probably only a few minutes. The mom was hurt, and it was hard to tell how bad, but telling her that her little one was OK seemed to calm her. I kept telling her that he was ok, that she would be ok, but there was a pool of blood around her, and her legs were tangled up in the steering column. She was a big girl too, like me, and there was very little wiggle room.

When it was all said and done, it looked as though she might have had a broken arm, lots of cuts, and maybe a broken leg. The kid (who was tiny, but not a baby; he was nearly 5, just eensy weensy) was unhurt, except for the scrapes and being totally freaked out.

When my heart started beating again, and the rescue crews were asking everyone to step away toward the sidewalk, I looked around and everyone around me was looking at me, sort of stunned. It was a somber scene, standing there, and for some reason, it felt uncomfortable. I was still shaking, wondering if it would be ok to go back to my car and sit with my daughter. Just them, one lady held my hand and said that what I did was heroic, and I told her that I really wasn't, but that the first guy really was. A couple of other young men closeby jumped in, disagreeing, saying that the first guy's reaction was expected, and then saying that I had done something that most "people like me" wouldn't.

What "people like me"? Women? Chubby women? I didn't really get it at first, then it dawned on me. The driver and her kid were black. The first guy, the one that kicked in the glass . . . . black. All of the bystanders, black.

I was the only white person there, and in a week that has been filled with Southern black people crying for help, and white people seemingly not caring, I guess maybe I was a hero. Not for saving the kid, cause he was ok and would have been ok with or without me, but maybe for restoring some faith that whites could maybe be trusted to help and do something besides be smug and hand out charity and set up human warehouses.

I sure as hell hope so.

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