When bad things happen, pay attention to who shows up.

There is a famous Mr. Rogers quote that has always stuck in my head. When discussing scary events with his mother she advised him to “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” This quote has been running through my mind since my kids and I experienced a serious car accident a few weeks ago.

We were driving down a highway in our minivan. This highway has certain areas that allow for traffic to cross all four lanes of the highway. We were on an unobstructed straightaway. I saw a pickup-truck driving at a high rate of speed towards the opposite side of the highway and cross into the median. The truck made no attempt to slow down and I immediately realized there was no way I could avoid this crash. I held the wheel tight and hit the brake as hard as I could. I remember yelling, “NO, NO NO, NO!”. I saw the face of the man driving the truck before the impact. I thought that was going to be the last thing I was ever going to see. The impact was intense. The force sent his truck flipping away from the front of the van. I was stunned but I needed to see my kids. I pulled my body around and saw all three of their beautiful faces, terrified, but very much alive and waiting for me to tell them what to do. I could not think. My ears were ringing and I did not know what I needed to do next. Then the helpers came.  

The first people there were not the police, EMS, or the fire department. They were people that stopped and knew what needed to be done next. One woman told me (very firmly) to snap out of it and get out of the van and help her get my kids out. Her companion was on the phone with 911. Others were there to help get the kids to safety and away from the busy highway. My kids were shown a puppy, comforted and held by total strangers. Others were attempting to assist the man in the truck. The nurse in me took over and I went to check on him too. When I realized he was only stuck, I gave in to the people pulling me back. I had not realized how badly my legs were injured until standing suddenly became impossible. None of these people had to disrupt their evenings to help our family but these people were our helpers. The kids and I talk about our first helpers often.

Once we were home from the hospital everything was overwhelming. The accident was still fresh, (like 16-hours fresh) when I received a phone call and was told I was laid-off from my job after 14-years. The added stress was a very much unneeded complication. The levels of physical pain, anxiety, and shock we were experiencing as a family was completely new to us. I was unable to sleep. I was exhausted but my body would not relax. I had four solid nights of sleeplessness. My DVR is completely caught up.

We were so thankful to those who showed up after the crash. Groceries were shopped for, meals were delivered, comfort was given, and boredom was alleviated. Many people also came out of the woodwork. People we knew casually but we now are committed to getting to know better. These people had no obligation to help us at all. They helped us because they are genuinely good people and realized how hard all of this was to handle. All of these people became our second group of helpers.

This experienced has made me think about that Mr. Rogers quote so many times. Hard times are not a fun situation to insert yourself into. Looking back at who our helpers were has been a revealing experience. Our helpers were not necessarily the people we would have expected. Some we would have expected shied away. Are these relationships still worth the effort if they evaporate when times get tough, only to sprinkle back in when everything settles down? Probably not. If anything, our family has taken away a new perspective on what is important in life. For us that means embracing those who are the helpers and being the helpers ourselves.

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