We live across the way from a large field which is part of a beautiful county park. I can stand on our deck to watch folks walking their dogs or check out the perennial soccer games. There’s a lovely historic house just beyond this field that is rented for weddings, allowing us to hear loud laughter and live music wafting through the air. I have walked around and around the field, deep in depression, desperately hoping that the exercise would help lift my spirits.
Occasionally the field is used as a landing pad for emergency rescue helicopters. Our home is situated along a windy mountain highway which, tragically, is the setting for severe car accidents. (The worst of the car wrecks are caused by drunk drivers.) The unlucky passengers of these vehicles are flown to major hospitals over the hill from where we live.
On New Year’s Eve it was quiet and the sun was sinking beyond the mountains for the last time in 2013. A little after 5:00 p.m. I heard the extreme roar of a helicopter and my mood began to sink a bit – I knew that someone had been critically injured and was possibly near death. I ran out onto the deck to spot the helicopter making its descent less than 1000 yards from where I stood. I called out to my younger daughter Marilla to join me for her first time to view a rescue. (Her big sister, our family’s social butterfly of the evening , had just left for a sleepover.)
I knew that Rilla would find it interesting to watch the situation from a distance. It wasn’t possible for her to see any disturbing details from where we stood, and I felt it was a worthwhile learning experience. Apart from the disturbing reality of the accident, I also wanted to point out the positive aspects of the rescue as well. I explained to Rilla about the beauty of flight technology, a subject that has fascinated me ever since I attended ground school to earn my pilot’s license. We also spoke about the different brave professionals who participated in the rescue, such as E.M.T.’s, police officers, doctors and nurses.
As soon as the helicopter landed, I heard the unmistakable cacophony of another helicopter. Sure enough, a separate emergency chopper made its vertical descent onto the field. In our seven years of living here, I had never seen two helicopters on the field at the same time, and it was chilling to observe.
The poignancy of watching a life-or-death scene on the eve of a new year did not escape me. It is hard to put into words how deep my emotions run when I witness the emergency personnel saving the lives of strangers, whether I am depressed or not.
I always think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Without fail, when the helicopter engines whir so loud for takeoff that it’s almost deafening, I start to tear up. I feel a combination of sorrow for knowing someone is gravely injured, but I also feel happiness and awe due to the valiant dedication of the emergency crew – it is good to feel deeply something other than despondency.
At that very moment as the helicopters depart, I am watching hope in action. I am moved when viewing the intrepid souls encased in metal rush off in the sky because it’s such a remarkable feat of aviation. My daughter was absolutely fascinated while I explained the rescue to her. Just a few minutes prior, she was having the worst tantrum ever due to jealousy of her Big Sis leaving for the last-minute sleepover. When I called Rilla out to the deck to watch the rescue, she had a complete attitude adjustment. She’s a very sensitive little creature full of empathy for others (except when she’s having a record-breaking tantrum!) and I believe that she understood the life-or-death nature of the operation; the gravity and drama of it all seemed to calm her down.
I am drawn to these rescues because they make me realize how fortunate I am to be on the outside of such a frightening state. After being on the inside of a nightmare for so long, I appreciate my healthier vantage point more than ever before. I am filled with gratitude for being out of a mental hospital ward. I am profoundly thankful for standing among the peaceful redwood trees of the San Lorenzo Valley, safe and surrounded by love, praying for strangers I will most likely never meet.