Monday, March 29, 2004

Bloody Thursday

Last Thursday morning I was running late for work, a sadly frequent circumstance for me this year. I was still dragging as I parked the car and walked up the residential street on which our clinic has stood for sixty years, grumbling to myself about my lack of caffeine and debating whether I felt exhausted enough to justify leaving early in the afternoon.

Just as I reached the entryway, I heard a voice calling, "Help me, help me." I looked around and saw a woman lying on her back in a steep driveway across the street. She waved and called out again.

I waited for an opening in the busy traffic and ran across the street to her. She struggled to sit up as I approached. "Are you all right?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "I just fell while I was walking down the driveway."

"Oh, do you need a hand back up?" I asked her.

"Well, I think I broke my ankle," she said. "Could you take my shoe off?"

"Ummm..." I hesitated. The last time I took a first aid course was four years ago, and I tried to remember what to do. "I don't know much first aid," I said and crouched down at her feet.

Then I saw the unnatural way her lower leg was bent. I'd never seen a broken limb before, but the skin a few inches above her ankle bulged out where her tibia had obviously broken. I cringed. "Oh, dear, I think you're right," I said, briefly noting that at least it hadn't broken through the skin.

And then, of course, I saw the blood. A pool of it in shadow beneath her twisted leg. More dripped rapidly, audibly, into the growing pool. I couldn't see the wound, just the growing pool of blood beneath her. More blood than I'd ever seen before. I managed not to say, "Oh, Shit," out loud.

Stop the bleeding, I thought, I think that's right. I carefully wrapped my hands around her leg, far above the break, just below her knee, and squeezed hard. I talked the whole time, telling her what I was doing, telling her she was bleeding "just a little" and I was going to put some pressure around her leg to try to stop the bleeding.

Well, stupid, what are you going to do, sit here with your hands around her leg all morning? I kept one hand pressing behind her knee, hoping it was doing some good, and reached for my purse, telling her I was going to call 911 to get some help.

"Oh, no," she said, "let me get my card and you can just call my hospital, that won't be as expensive." She started to raise herself onto one elbow, reaching for her backpack.

The broken bone in her leg shifted audibly, grating on itself. "No, no, that's all right, try to keep still," I said, horrified. I fumbled in my purse with my free hand and pulled out my cell phone, thanking the gods that I'd finally given in and bought one in November. "I'll just call across the street and have them send our nurse over to give you a hand while we wait for the medics to get here."

I dialed my work number with my thumb, smearing blood across the numbers. I started talking as soon as our secretary picked up--"Hi, it's Thel, I'm right across the street with one of our neighbors, she fell down in her driveway and her leg is broken, could you call 911 and also send Tia [our nurse] over if she's around?"

P. assured me that she would, and I put my phone back in my purse. I started jabbering away to the woman. She answered calmly, but that just made me worry that she had lost so much blood that she was going to pass out on me. I asked her name (Lucy), how long she'd lived here--"Oh, twenty years," she said. "Goodness," I answered, "I've just worked here for two and a half years; you probably know more about the clinic than I do!" I think she chuckled. I wasn't really paying attention to what I was saying.

My hands were slippery around her knee. I pulled loose one of her backpack's webbing straps and tried to cinch it tight around her leg instead. "Is that too tight?" I worried.

"No," she said faintly. I rested my elbows on my knees as I crouched there. My hands were sticky with blood. I tried not to look at them or at the ground beneath her leg.

I sat there talking with her for a hundred years in the three minutes between the time I called and the time I saw Tia with our Executive Director and Assistant Director all hurrying through the rain towards us. Giddy with relief, I stood up and introduced them. Tia had one of those foil shock blankets which we unrolled and draped over Lucy. Our Assistant Director put his jacket under her head. "I think I'm going to be sick," Lucy said.

They said the ambulance was on its way. I stood awkwardly for a moment, shaking and holding my bloody hands out away from my body. My three coworkers had it under control--Tia had also brought a bandage with her and started unrolling it--so I wished Lucy well and walked across the street. I scrubbed my hands three times in the sink, then scrubbed the sink and blotted it dry with wads of paper towels.

I spent most of the morning in a meeting that didn't require much participation from me, which allowed me to sit quietly shaking until my adrenaline shock wore off. I ended up leaving early after all, having worked late earlier in the week.

I was always a little proud of the fact that blood didn't faze me, especially around friends who go queasy at the mere idea of a bloody nose. I guess I can still claim that the sight of blood doesn't make me sick, but my pride in that fact has vanished. I spent most of the morning feeling vaguely ashamed, actually. I kept thinking about these guys. I thought of their friends who watched them die, who may have held them as they died, helpless to save them.

My heart aches for those men and women who have died, and for the grief faced by their families and friends, lovers and children. But I also grieve for their living friends, who watched them die and whose minds will never erase that memory, who will carry those moments with them every day and night until their own deaths. I want to find some place where I can kneel and wrap my hands around that ceaseless pain, clench my fingers around it and forcibly staunch the flow of those bloody memories.

And I can't do a damn thing but grieve.

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

Thursday, March 25, 2004

"We are prophets of a future not our own"

Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Electrolite reminds us that yesterday was the 24th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. I learned just a few years ago of the circumstances surrounding Archbishop Romero's assassination. It was one of the key points in my increased awareness of appalling U.S. interventions in Latin America, and around the world. This article in the Guardian notes that the men who killed Archbishop Romero were trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Romero wrote the following prayer. I will honor his life and the lives of others like him by letting him speak for himself, and praying with him:

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny
fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s
No set of goals and objectives includes

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that
they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a
step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.


Jeanne at Body and Soul helpfully points to a free book of Archbishop Romero's meditations available for downloading (free!) at Bruderhof Communities.

Monday, March 22, 2004

My roots are tangling with my branches.

I received the following story via email yesterday. The sender is a woman I have known my entire life. She and her husband are my mother's best friends, and are two of the most wonderful and caring individuals I know. And yet I received this email from them yesterday, a story they read and wanted to share with their friends:

Allah and Jesus, by Rick Mathes

Last month I attended my annual training session that's required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths who explained their belief systems.

I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say.

The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video. After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers.

When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked: "Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world. And, that by killing an infidel, which is a command to all Muslims, they are assured of a place in heaven. If that's the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?"

There was no disagreement with my statements and without hesitation he replied, "Non-believers!"

I responded, "So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to Heaven. Is that correct?"

The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sheepishly replied, "Yes."

I then stated, "Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Pat Robertson or Dr. Stanley ordering Protestants to do the same in order to go to Heaven!"

The Imam was speechless.

I continued, "I also have a problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me. Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah who tells you to kill me in order to go to Heaven or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to Heaven and He wants you to be with me?"

You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame.

I hate, I abhor, confrontation in all its forms. Mostly because I'm not very good at it. But I couldn't justify letting this awful story go unremarked, so after I calmed myself down I spent quite a long time formulating and researching a reply.

More on that later.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Heavy Duty...huh?

My parents didn't own a television from the time I was about two years old. Their old set abruptly died one day, and they decided with a shrug that it was probably a sign of just how useless the thing was anyway. Nevertheless, I still managed to pick up a few useful slogans from the TV at my grandma's house.

My mom loves to tell how I took one particular laundry detergent commercial to heart. I honestly have no memory of this, but apparently for several months around my third birthday I often shouted my adopted slogan, much to the amusement of relatives, church ladies, and assorted strangers in restaurants. I would hide behind a grown-up or under a table, then pop out suddenly for dramatic effect, plant my fists on my hips, and shout, "I'm Rebecca Lynn Johnson,* with Heavy Duty Power!"

I had a hefty dose of the Heavy Duty Power. I don't remember having it. I don't know where it went. I became a shy, self-conscious girl afraid of too much attention. I am reluctant to rock the boat, startle strangers, or rouse any rabble. God forbid I offend a friend, or make anyone too uncomfortable.

I am in danger of becoming a spineless nodder.

Enough, I say. The Heavy Duty Power is severely atrophied after two decades of timidity, but surely it's recoverable. With enough exercise I'm sure it can be revitalized. That's the reason for this blog: to get back my Heavy Duty Power. To practice setting my jaw and speaking my mind. To opine, declaim, rant, and pronounce. And in time I hope I can remember exactly how to toss my cape back from my shoulders, straighten my pose, and declare, "I'm Rachel Lynn Johnson, with Heavy Duty Power!"

It's going to be great.

*Not, of course, my real name.