01 December 2008

Heroes a little closer to home

This is a storytelling post.

News stories about the possible nomination of Hilary Clinton to the position of Secretary Of State in the Obama administration abound.  Senator Clinton, should she truly be offered the position, and provided that she accepts, will not have the distinction of being the first female Secretary Of State. 

That honor belongs to Madeline Allbright.

When I'm asked to list my heroes, she's always on the list, along with Nelson Mandela, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ghandi, and a few other fairly predictable folks.  The unexpected people on that list (well, maybe it is unexpected for you, not to me) are my parents.

It wasn't until I was in my early 20s that I realized that they're both...words fail me here.  Amazing?  Brave? More giving than the average person?  Yes, all of those.

As a college graduation present, my parents and I traveled to Palm Springs, CA, spending a few days there before driving on to the Grand Canyon.  Among the many things we did there, one of the more memorable was a ride on the Colorado River.  Not through the famed Grand Canyon rapids, but rather from Page, Arizona, to the entrance of the canyon.  Billed as a "smooth water" canoe trip, it was peaceful, beautiful, sun-drenched.  

At the end of the river trip, the bus which had delivered us to Page picked us up for a return trip to our lodging at the Grand Canyon.

Our bus driver was a woman who studied the Anazai Indians, and had a deep love - and an extensive knowledge - of the Grand Canyon.  As she drove, she used the bus's PA system to regale us with stories about the native peoples of the area, information about geological formations, and what it was like to live in the housing the Grand Canyon (i.e. the national park service) provides for staff.  

I was sitting midway back, and had turned off my Discman to listen.  All of a sudden, the bus lurched to one side and then stopped.  I glanced up at the windshield, but all I saw was a cloud of dust far ahead of us at first.  As the dust settled, a horrific accident scene spread out in front of us.  An old lead sled, like a 1979 Monte Carlo, was in pieces on the road.  A motor home had its front mashed in, and there was wreckage everywhere.  

The bus driver asked that we stay in our seats, and asked if anyone had any first aid training.  She then asked for volunteers to help the injured.  Of all of those people on that bus, it was my parents who stood up, got out of their seats and volunteered to help.  As both of them got off the bus, they turned to me and in chorus said, "You stay here!"  Which made me smile a little in the face of such tragedy, because they're usually so much on the same page, thoughts in tandem.

The bus driver came back and asked if anyone knew emergency radio codes.  As DH (although then he was DB) was a firefighter for a very long time, I was used to listening to the scanner and familiar with the radio chatter.  So I sat in the driver's seat and directed the first responders to our location.

I don't remember how many people died that day.  All of the occupants of the lead sled.  The car disintegrated around them.  The people in the motor home survived, but with some injuries.  I don't remember what those injuries were; cuts, contusions, bruising, but not much that was serious as I recall.

While I talked to the authorities, a woman came to the front of the bus and began taking pictures through the bus window with her disposable camera.  I was deeply disgusted; people are such vultures.  I asked her, "Why in the HELL would you want pictures of this?  People died here."  Her response?  "It is a piece of history."  I glared, and snarled, "Lady, it isn't your history, and it is ghoulish and insensitive."  She sat back down.  Good thing, too, I mighta smacked her if she kept it up.

But the contrast in reactions to the accident is what has stuck with me.  My parents: got up and helped.  Other people on the bus: rubbernecked.  How could you not find that admirable?

In case I hadn't mentioned it lately: I miss them when they're off in the sunny south!

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