Everyday Lifesavers

“I saved his life.”

Unfortunately, whatever lifesaving the sixtyish woman at the next table had done, it wasn’t exciting enough to make her raise her voice as she chatted with her husband about it. That one tantalizing phrase was all I overheard.

This left me to wonder about the rest of the story. Whose life? How did she save him? Rescue him from drowning, or a car crash or a conflagration? Give him a kidney? Was he a child? Was he even human? Maybe he was a dog or cat they had 30 years ago, for all I know.

That’s the frustrating part: I don’t know. And I never will. Because as an unrepentant but courteous eavesdropper, I do know it’s bad manners and worse strategy to lean over and say, “I didn’t quite get that—could you please speak up?”

After I finished wondering about the other woman’s mysterious lifesaving, my mind took the next logical path. I started wondering whether I’ve ever saved anyone’s life.

The answer, surprising for someone who is neither brave nor a medical professional, was that maybe I have. Several times.

In 1987, at a blind intersection, perhaps my daughter’s, my own, and some unknown driver’s. The traffic light turned green, but for some odd reason I paused a moment before I pulled out. That pause was just long enough for the driver who ran the red light to speed through the intersection before my car got to the middle of it.

My children’s, possibly, by making sure they had all their vaccinations. (Which might make up for the time I put my small son’s life at risk by trying to stop him from running through a revolving door. I swear I didn’t realize he would get his head stuck in it.)

In 2013, the woman on the bicycle, probably. On my way to the Black Hills Playhouse that morning for a Fourth of July play date with a much younger man, I was feeling late and wanting to hurry. Because of that sense of urgency, I kept reminding myself to slow down and drive with the deliberate care the winding, narrow mountain road demanded. Good thing, too. The bicyclist, in the middle of the right-hand lane, was pedaling hard but barely moving uphill when I came around the blind curve right behind her. Because I wasn’t speeding the way my inner white rabbit (“I’m late!”) kept urging me to, I did not run over her. She may or may not be grateful; I certainly am.

Some everyday lifesaving is dramatic, like the members of my family who saved their four-year-old from strangling in the cord of a window blind. Some of it is less so. Like the times we drive carefully or get the brakes fixed or remember to charge our cell phones. Or like another family member who saved her husband’s life, and possibly the lives of a couple of his siblings, by making him go get a colonoscopy.

But dramatic or embarrassing, chances are most of us have been everyday lifesavers. Much more than we may realize, our fragile human lives rest in each other’s hands. Just think about your own lifesaving experiences. But please, if you talk about them in a public place, speak a little louder.

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