1: My First Responder

1: My First Responder

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

My First Responder

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

~Thornton Wilder

I was driving home from an audition to sing as a church cantor in a local Catholic church. The audition went very well and they had hired me on the spot. I felt blessed.

It wasn’t far to the highway that would take me home. I had a green arrow indicating that I could make a left turn, so I turned toward the entrance ramp. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a speeding Suburban blew through a red light and plowed into my little Neon. I saw it coming and there was nothing I could do.

Glass shattered around me, the airbags deployed and something heavy pushed against my legs. It was the car’s engine. To make matters worse, the engine was in flames. I frantically tried my door, only to find it was completely caved in. I couldn’t budge it. I’m pretty sure I was screaming by then.

The police came quite quickly and one officer put out the flames with a fire extinguisher. The car was still smoldering under the crushed hood, though, and I could smell gasoline.

When the firefighters and rescue team finally arrived, they couldn’t get the door open either. Flames began spreading out from under the hood again. I was crying now as the firemen scrambled to get something to cut me out. I could see on their faces that things looked rather grim. I kept calling for someone to help me. The adrenaline had started to wear off and I was almost certain that my left ankle was broken.

A man suddenly appeared at the side of my car. I remember he was very handsome and had a comforting smile. He said, “I’ve got you, sweetheart. Hang on.”

Before I knew it, he had opened the door effortlessly and helped me out of the burning wreck. Then he let me lean against him and he guided me to the side of the road, out of harm’s way. The front end of the car was engulfed in flames by then. The firemen rushed over with a foam spray to put out the fire, frantic to rescue me from where I was stuck — except I wasn’t there anymore.

One of the astonished firefighters walked over to where I was sitting. The man who helped me had disappeared so I assumed he had gone back to his own vehicle.

I asked the firefighter if he could thank the man for me. He shook his head, and said, “Lady there was no man. We went for the Jaws of Life to get you out of the car, only to find you sitting on the curb. Lady, we couldn’t open that door. It’s so damaged, the only way to free you was to cut you out.”

I knew I had seen him. That man helped me walk to the curb. I couldn’t have done it myself because I couldn’t even put any weight on my injured foot. I argued with the firefighter: The man who had saved me had been there. I held onto him. He was real. I felt him guiding me out of the car and across the road. I leaned on him when I could not walk.

The fireman responded, “Trust me, Miss, there was no one there. I have no idea how you got out, but I can assure you there was no man.”

I was pretty shaken up, as you can imagine, and as the paramedics came and put me in the ambulance, I insisted that I wanted to thank the kind stranger who had risked his life to save me. I think they just thought I was hysterical from the trauma of the accident.

A few days later, I was hobbling on crutches with a bad sprain. My ankle was not broken and somehow, even with all the glass from the windshield that had splintered around me, I only had superficial cuts on my neck and hands. I had a couple of black eyes from the impact of the airbags, but all in all, I was in pretty good shape, considering the magnitude of the accident. The Suburban that hit my little car was speeding at eighty miles per hour, according to the police.

I had to go to the junkyard to more or less “identify” my car and retrieve whatever items I could salvage from the wreck. Of course the car was totaled. When I saw the extent of the damage, my knees buckled. I could not believe I survived that crash. I looked inside the burnt shell of the car and spotted my purse on the floor, damaged, but salvageable. I took it with me and rifled through it. Inside the charred remains of my purse was a silver Celtic cross that I had never seen before. Not only that, it was a crucifix. Normally, Celtic crosses do not have the body of Christ on them. There was a little heart dangling from it with the Mother of God imprinted on it. It also said, “Erin” on the back, which means Ireland. Now, I am not Irish, but of all the music I love singing, Irish music rates at the top.

I don’t know how that cross got into my purse and I don’t know who my rescuer was. But I keep the cross with me at all times as a reminder that I was protected and blessed many times that fateful day.

~Ria Cantrell

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