A Fall, and a Puppy in Jeopardy, Show How we Save One Another: Neighbors as Lifeblood

Last Thursday afternoon, in the quiet neighborhood in an area of Salem, MA, where my husband has a little place in which we hang out when we spend time with my wonderful stepson, I foolishly decided to go for a run with our puppy.

Loki is ten months old, and he is a ‘Shi-Poo’ — a Shitzu Poodle mix, an adorable combination; though the name of the breed, clearly coined so as to avoid making nine-year-old boys giggle, is as silly and pretentious as ‘NoHo’ or ‘DUMBO.’

Loki is very different from the much-mourned Mushroom. Where the late Mushroom was, certainly in his elder years, a judgmental, eccentric Oscar Wilde character, Loki is all a young Jimmy Stewart; wide-eyed innocence, good intentions, purity of heart.

Brian keeps up a narration of the excited, tolerant inner monologue of Loki, just as he did with an equally funny, finicky and censorious inner monologue for Mushroom. Where Mushroom would gaze at us with relentless hostility until we broke down psychologically and yielded any delicious human food in our possession, Loki’s voice is something like: ‘I see you guys are having steak tips! I’m having puppy chow! But that’s cool! I love you!!’

Loki has long hind legs like a rabbit, or a hound dog, and he runs like a rabbit — with total joy in motion. I began to run with him – as who could fail to want to share in that delight? And I made the mistake of using a long extensible leash, as he loved to cavort about with all that length. Had I done more research, I would have known that that was a recipe for an accident.

I was racing with him a few blocks from Brian’s little flat, on the uneven sidewalks of the little town. The next moment, I realized that I was on my back on the icy sidewalk, in an agony unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life, and probably screaming.

Worse still, I could see that Loki was about 100 feet further away from me on the sidewalk, with the leash, fallen out of my hapless grasp, trailing near him. He was looking back at me in confused concern.

But I was unable to get up, and I realized with horror that I could not move my left arm or hand at all. Loki could easily wander away and be lost, or get hit by a car.

I started shouting, ‘Help me! Please help me!’ I put all of my conscious will into those screams, and I prayed someone would respond before I passed out, or before I went into shock, which would mean that my puppy would be in terrible danger.

Amazingly, I soon felt someone kneel by me. A woman had come out of her nearby home, having heard my screams. She was seeking to calm me, even as someone else called 911.

‘Please get my puppy,’ I begged. Miraculously, another woman appeared, from another house — I believe from across the street. I heard two voices then gently luring Loki back toward where I lay, and then my heart was in my throat until one woman was able to seize his leash handle securely.

‘Please tell my husband what happened,’ I managed to say between groans, and I gave that woman our address. Her wife also, I believe, called 911 on my behalf.

Amazingly, this neighbor took Loki three blocks away, accurately located our address, knocked on our door, gave Loki safely to Brian, and let him know that I had fallen. Amazingly too, another neighbor, an older man, appeared out of nowhere, while all of this was happening, a look of concern on his face, and bearing a pillow and blanket.

The neighbors deliberated about not using the pillow, as they decided that they should not move me. Meanwhile I felt myself start to sink into shock – I felt my heart rate slowing, and I grew colder and began to tremble. I felt that sense of, ‘My body and mind can’t take this pain any longer; I am about to lose consciousness.’

Then the four neighbors, working together, put the blanket gently over me. The sidewalk was frozen and my body temperature kept dropping; keeping me warm, I am sure, prevented me from going into shock or hypothermia, and their decision not to move my head also helped me avoid further injury.

The first woman who had come out to help me, knelt beside me and asked about my dog’s breed. She kept chatting with me. This cannot have been pleasant for her, as I was still inarticulate – howling and groaning.

I realized, even in my increasing confusion and agony, that she was making small talk with me, in order to keep me from passing out.

My husband arrived, and the ambulance quickly arrived as well, and the EMTs wonderfully took over, loaded me excruciatingly onto a stretcher, and whisked me into the most painful ride of my life. They cut off my winter coat, so that there were feathers everywhere in the ambulance interior.

By now I was screaming unreservedly.

‘We are in Massachusetts, so there are going to be potholes’, one of the EMTS explained, and indeed I shrieked aloud with every jolt — he was not kidding. But they got me quickly and efficiently to the ER, where, after I underwent agonizing X-Rays and MRIs, Brian and I were told by a cheery ER doc that I had broken my shoulder.

But I was so lucky. I had not lost consciousness. I had not gone into shock. I had not been left on the wintry sidewalk, my vital signs steadily dropping til someone finally reacted, perhaps too late.

What I mean to say is that four strangers came out at once into the freezing street at the sound of a human voice in distress. Four strangers stayed at the uncomfortable, no doubt upsetting scene, prioritizing a stranger’s and a little pup’s visible risks over whatever else they had been doing at that moment, and over their own cozy comfort; strangers patiently lured, and then secured, and thus saved the life of my little dog. A stranger patiently brought him home, and let my husband know I was hurt. A stranger had held my good hand and talked to me of random subjects, in freezing temperatures, for quite a long time, so that I would not pass out. A stranger had brought me a pillow and a blanket of his own, and put the blanket down for me on the icy, gritty sidewalk.

The decency of these people — who themselves may not have even known one another — created an instinctive choreography of goodness, which was lifesaving.

Then, once my dog and I were safe, these strangers melted away, back into their lives, asking nothing of the moment — not even my thanks. I don’t even know their names.

These four strangers may indeed have saved my life, or at least kept me from much more serious injury. And they certainly saved the life of my little dog.

Five days later I walked – very carefully, and without Loki — and now wearing a sling supporting my shattered left shoulder — around the corner, to see where it all had taken place. There was the ridge in the uneven sidewalk that I had not noticed as I had been running. There was the place I’d fallen, where all I could do was helplessly to scream.

I looked around — these kind people must live nearby, but I literally don’t know where to find them to thank them.

My larger point, if I may extrapolate from this extraordinary personal kindness I was fortunate to experience — is that our little community showed that it was emotionally and morally healthy. In a healthy community, humans save each other.

These people simply had in each one of them a moral compass and a sense of selfless compassion, that led them to act together with such a beautiful, positive outcome.

That is the society, the community, that sense of unity, we all used to have — at least as an ideal.

What, after all, is an angel? Maybe the angelic is just the human, acting with decency.

Human communities’ ability to save one another, to save the community itself, out of values of internalized decency and compassion, is a resilient, effective, powerful, unstoppable thing.

That is why when others wish to take power from us, they create policies to keep us apart, unknown to, and in fear of one another.

I don’t mean to politicize a great blessing I received at the hands of my neighbors, but I can’t help considering that if, God forbid, this had happened to us during ‘lockdown’ – or during some time of global messaging about our fellow humans being untouchable, or somehow dangerous to others — I might have lost consciousness, or frozen to death, and Loki too surely would have been lost.

And that risk is true for anyone in times and places that ‘other’; a person of color injured or fainting in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood in the Jim Crow era; someone suspected of being HIV positive, if injured or losing consciousness, during the bad old days when we were asked to shun those with AIDS.

The poet William Butler Yeats’ beautiful lines from Easter 1916 reveal the risk to us of losing compassion:

‘Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.

O when may it suffice?

That is Heaven’s part. Our part

To murmur name upon name […]’

My neighbors did their human part; they seamlessly together manifested the ancient human miracle of compassion; they saved one of their own, saved indeed two sentient beings, purely out of kindness.

Let us recommit to never again glamorize any society that urges humans to turn away from the distress of other human beings, their brothers and sisters — everyone’s child their own child. Let us reject forever policies that that seek to retire humans’ altruistic, instinctive decency toward one another, by interpolating into those moments in which it is most needed, the rigidities, scripts and representatives of officialdom.

Let us forever more defy any pronouncements that seek to turn making ‘a stone of the heart’ into a virtue.

And to you, my dear, nameless neighbors, on behalf of myself, my family, and this blameless, now safe, little dog — thank you — and thank you — and thank you.

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