Before seatbelts were installed in cars, a mother secured her precious cargo into their seats with a prayer. With all four children packed into the back seat of our turquoise Ford Galaxy, my mother, pregnant with her fifth child, drove toward my grandmother’s house.
We had made the short drive many times before, and at six years of age I already recognized many of the landmarks along the way. I knew we were getting close when we approached the grade school on the corner.
As my mother drove through the busy intersection, her light was green, but something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye. She jerked her head in its direction, but it was too late. Another driver had run the red light and plowed into the side of our car, striking the driver’s side and knocking us forty feet off the street and into the school yard.
For a moment it seemed as if time held still. Cars stopped in the middle of the road; pedestrians stood frozen on the sidewalk. Then, at once, men and women everywhere ran toward us. As I looked out the shattered car window, the doors to the school burst open, and a flood of people rushed in our direction.
Covered in debris, I fished out pebbles of glass from my mouth. In a matter of minutes, my car door was flung open and arms reached inside, pulling me from my seat. One by one we were each carried from the wreckage into soft grass. A woman put her arm around my shoulder and titled me forward. “Don’t swallow. Spit it out.”
I spit out the glass pebbles like loose teeth, along with long strands of blood mixed with saliva. She inspected my mouth and picked the jagged shards from my face and hair. Someone handed her a wet cloth, and she pressed it against a cut on my forehead.
Dazed and frightened, my body shook. The woman wrapped her arms around me.
“It’s going to be all right.” She assured me, her soft voice a soothing balm. Gently, she dabbed my wounds. “You’re going to be okay.”
With so many people having come to our aid, I had lost sight of my mother. Frantically, I searched the crowd.
Sensing my panic, the woman pointed to a small flock of people surrounding my mother. “She’s right there. Everyone’s all right. Don’t worry.” My mother, my sisters and my baby brother were all being cared for.
Although I did not know this woman, her goodness I recognized, and her kindness was no stranger.
I felt safe in her pillowy embrace and peered up into her face. “Are you a nurse?”
She smiled, chuckled a little. “No sweetie, I’m not a nurse. I’m just a regular person.”
Although we were all banged up with bumps, scrapes and cuts, not one of us was seriously hurt. Everyone said it was a miracle. I believe it was an answer to my mother’s prayer.
Someone had called my grandmother, and soon she had arrived to take us to her home. The woman who had first pulled me from the wreckage placed me safely into my grandma’s car. I turned to look up at her, but by then she had melted into the crowd.
As I look back on this memory, as much as I try, I cannot recall the woman’s face. I can remember the comfort of her words, the warmth of the wet cloth against my forehead, and the feel of broken glass in my mouth, but I cannot remember what she looked like.
At times, though, I think I have recognized her in the faces of those I have seen reach out to help others in need— those who open their homes to the homeless, feed the hungry, and embrace the hurting. Sometimes I see her in the faces of these regular people.
While there were many heroes that day, countless people who ran to our aid, the real unsung hero was the goodness and kindness of the human spirit.
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