Last night, just as our family finished watching a movie, we heard a crash. It was so loud that my son dropped to the ground and covered his head; he believed that bullets were flying. Then we heard the wailing: the screams and cries of fear and pain.
My husband stayed with our son while I ran outside to assess the situation. As soon as I stepped out my door, my feet crunched on broken glass, pieces of plastic bumper, and car metal. People started flooding out of their homes to see what had happened. After a quick glance, we could tell that a police cruiser and another vehicle had had a fierce accident. We soon learned that the cruiser had been driving fifty miles per hour down the residential street, with lights on but no siren. It blew through a stop sign causing another car to T-bone them, and then it hit a tree and multiple other parked cars in the process.
The squad car’s doors were smashed in and the airbags deployed. No one was exiting the vehicle because the doors were inoperable. That’s when I saw the man and woman from the other vehicle come out. I knew it was them by the blood pouring down from their faces. Both had suffered major head injuries and were calling out for help.
I witnessed my neighbors immediately mobilize. My neighbor across the street announced he was a medic and began caring for the victims. He called out what supplies he needed, and a few neighbors took mere minutes to respond. Two others worked to get the police car door open to assess the injuries of the officers. One person saw that the woman hit had bare feet, so she immediately got her some socks and shoes. Others were calling 911. I gathered some children together so that they wouldn’t be frightened.
For the next ninety minutes, neighbors worked together to ensure that the victims were safe, bystanders were safe, and accurate information was given. We took care of one another, and shared blankets and water and hugs. We rallied together for one another.
The intersection was a wreck and covered in debris. Multiple cars suffered major damage, but everyone walked away alive. After things had settled and the ambulance had left, the police wrapped up their work and everyone else went home. For the next hour, there was a lot of debriefing and breathing and recentering with our kids. What had just happened was traumatic for them, as well. Our gifts of care and compassion were still needed.
My husband and I got little sleep that night. I woke up early thinking about all the debris and glass left behind covering the street and sidewalks. It was dangerous for cars, for folks walking, for animals, and for kids. While the sun was rising, I slipped on my rubber boots and grabbed gloves, a broom, and paper bags. I headed outside and started sweeping. The damage on that corner left many cars stopping and turning around because they couldn’t get through. After about an hour, a neighbor came outside with a cup of coffee for me, and she joined in the work.
Looking back, I realize that we have done something like this together many times over the years that we have been neighbors. After tragedy hits our block, we show up the next morning and help recover. Together.
Often, when crisis happens in your neighborhood, the only ones to help you cope and get through are the ones who live only a few steps away.