Entering the Fray

rocky ocean shore

How does your body react in the midst of danger? What is your first impulse when you are feeling frightened and overwhelmed? Here, Becky Allender writes about how a near-tragic accident helped her learn how to slow down, check in with her body, and pursue the heart of God in the midst of disaster. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.

It was mid-afternoon when the call came.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hi, Mom.”

I knew instantly something was wrong.

“I’m okay Mom, I just went through the rear window of a woman’s car and my boss is coming to get me and take me to the hospital.”

“Andrew, what happened?”

“I was making a delivery and the woman in front of me slammed on her brakes. I didn’t have time to stop. I’m okay Mom.”

“Did you have your helmet on?”

“Yes, Mom,” he calmly replied.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

My heart was racing and my knees felt wobbly and there was an odd “shushing” sound in my ears. I glanced at the clock and checked the ferry schedule while grabbing a coat and a backpack.

Andrew was attending college, but his heart and soul was being a bike messenger. He was a “fixed gear” bicyclist, which meant his bike had no gears or brakes, and the only way to stop was to “fish tail” the rear wheel in a similar fashion that a skier uses to stop while going downhill. I tried to imagine what had happened and if his boss had arrived to pick him up and why did he not call 911?

I strangely knew in that instant that I was not going to rush to the 3:30 ferry. I called our daughter who was a nurse in Seattle, and she said that she was available to go to the ER right away.

“Thank you, Amanda, call me when you are with him. I will be on the 4:40 ferry.” Prayer seemed to be the best thing for my heart and body before departing the house with a wobbly body. My body was reeling from hearing the news, and rushing at such a time would not have been wise. It was an unusual, new kind of kindness to myself to have a cup of tea and pray before rushing to the scene.

Prayer isn’t always the first thing I do when danger intrudes. When we moved to our home on Bainbridge Island, our 20-pound terrier was viciously attacked in our yard by four large dogs. I looked out the window and Maggie was fighting for her life. The growling and barking was deafening, and by the time I got to her she was in the jaws of our neighbor’s German shepherd! I began screaming and kicking the dogs and eventually grabbed Maggie from “Zeus’s” teeth and ran with her into our house. I hollered for Andrew, who was 10 at the time, to get a towel, and we ran to the car and rushed to a vet’s office. It wasn’t until we were driving that I remember praying.

My husband reminded me later it was a miracle that the dogs didn’t attack me. Like any mother my amygdala is set to protect those I love. I remember thinking as I swung at the dogs, if I am mauled, my husband will love me no matter how I look.

Capital “D” danger triggers our limbic system to go into fight, flight, or freeze without thought. Even though my body was panicked by Andrew’s phone call, I somehow knew to slow down. Help was on the way for Andrew, and our daughter would be the “first responder” family member. (Bless her love for medicine!) I had time to prepare my heart and mind to what my body was doing. This could end up being a very long night.

We all have countless stories of danger in our lives and we will all, unfortunately, have countess future stories of danger. One of the new things I am trying to do is be aware of my body and my surroundings when danger presents itself.

I am recognizing many anxious ways that I have lived within my body. With the story work I have recently done, I am learning to have compassion for my anxiety. I used to pride myself on being strong and capable of handling stress in various situations: “I can do this myself!” “No, I don’t need any help.” “Oh, I feel fine, even when I don’t feel fine or even know how I feel!” Or, “It must be my fault for not being more clear.”

Because I have entered the “danger” of remembering stories of my childhood trauma, I have been able to look back and see reasons why I developed certain ways of surviving. Today, I am quicker to remember lesson one from the Westminster shorter catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Enjoying God and enjoying the life He has given me has become a daily goal. On the day of Andrew’s accident, I somehow knew I needed time with God to be the mom Andrew needed in the ER.

Enjoying God and enjoying the life He has given me has become a daily goal.”

Amanda called as I was walking from the 4:40 ferry and said, “He looks worse than I thought. There is so much blood!” What! This is my daughter, the nurse, being alarmed about too much blood! I could hear my heart pounding as I arrived at the ER. They ushered me to his room, and his forehead was glass-punctured and bloody. The emergency room physician advised us to wait until the radiologist read the X-rays.

After three hours, the radiologist called me on a hospital phone in the hallway as he was looking at the X-rays and said there was quite a bit of glass remaining in Andrew’s forehead. There was “danger,” he explained, in not taking care of this immediately. He advised me to not leave the hospital until a plastic surgeon could see Andrew.

The hospital informed us that there was no plastic surgeon available at this hour and wanted to release us. They wrapped Andrew’s head in so much gauze he appeared to have a foot-tall white (and red-spotted) turban!

The stares of everyone we passed were intense. Seeing no other avenue but to walk alongside this scary, horrific looking young man was surreal. I birthed this boy and when I held him in my arms, sweet, beautiful Andrew was spotless and without blemish. Nothing in the universe prepares us for nights like these, when we hang in the balance of “Please, God” and “What now?” Danger is written into reality in a fallen world, and our brains are wired to engage it. I am left with the decision daily to enter this world with a heart ready to face the fray, but to do so with a cup of tea and prayer.