Tipping Point

Briargrove Park, Houston

Kaboom. It sounded like large objects being tossed into a construction dumpster; a not so unfamiliar sound for us since we are still in construction here on Chevy Chase.

I ran to look out my kitchen window. I saw a US Mail truck laying on it’s side in the intersection of my corner lot. People were already running to the site. I got my husband and we ran outside. The mailman, not our usual carrier I noted, was sitting upright on the curb; blood was running down his stiff arm; a lady stood nearby. I ran back inside to get a comforter because I remembered hearing on TV that people in shock need to be kept warm, and surely it was quite the shock for him; being suddenly hit and tipped over like that in a tiny, more-toy-looking-than-not mail truck.

I gingerly placed the colorful comforter around his legs. He smiled with a mix of gratitude and bewilderment. Yep, he was shook up. He said, “Thank you. I’m all shaky.” I looked him in the eyes and answered with calm available as an observer, not victim, “Well yes, you took quite a hit, but you’re ok.” He smiled more, nodded, as I add, “I bet that was scary but you’re okay. You’re okay. I’ll sit here beside you. Not too close but with you.” They also say on TV, with arms wide-spread like the NBA’s Jason “the Jet” Terry when he drained an impressive three, “Give them room. Give them room for air.”

I noticed the lady on the other side of him, calmly rubbing his back. I looked around; someone was making the necessary calls to 911. I began noticing more of the familiar faces of my neighborhood, some like my corner neighbors I knew by name; others more by: he’s the jogger, she’s the one with that cute little dog, there’s my driveway neighbor in her cute pink sweat pants, holding her baby boy who just turned 5 months old.

Then, a man wearing a light parka and with small child in red-wagon tow, offered the mailman his filled-to-the-brim with ice and water metal mug, saying, “Do you want a drink of water? I don’t have anything contagious.” The mailman accepted, but I could see by his small sips that it was disappointingly not stopping his shaking. But he kept on smiling, and seemed to begin figuring out that he really was going to be okay, and that people were gathering and taking care of him. “You all are being so nice to me,” he said. “I really really appreciate it.”

Someone chuckled a bit and asked if he had delivered his mail to his house before this happened. Everyone laughed, including the mailman who then seriously reported, “I was all done for the day except for a couple of packages to deliver to Ella Lee.” I offered to take them down there but again he smiled, and said, “I don’t think they’d like that.”  “Oh yeah, that’s right,” I told myself.

The nice lady and I pulled his jacket a bit higher and up around his shoulders and someone asked, “Should you call your boss?” “Oh, yeah,” he laughed a bit, “but my phone’s in the truck.” One of the guys, just like a Boy Scout, jumped to action and bolted up, then down into the now-vertical vehicle and began looking for his phone and keys. We watched through the windshield as he sifted through the tumble of mail and shelving and paper cups scattered and piled up on the paved street, reminding me of a carnival claw reaching for fluffy toys. Eventually he found the phone, and the mailman made his calls.

It was about then that the fire truck and ambulance showed up, silent running as we don’t want the neighborhood to be too disturbed I suppose. The EMS began attending the mailman and I noticed for the first time the driver of the big, black SUV that had hit the small mail truck. No one was talking with her or checking on her as she tentatively strolled on the other side of the intersection.

There was light chatter, sprinkled with levity that comes after excitement enough to get us out of the house but not so bad as to being terrible, with questions about what happened? One neighbor reported that, “She was driving way too fast and ran the stop sign. Can you believe how loud it was?” One of the firemen said, “This happens all the time. These mail trucks get hit and tip over a lot,” to which someone responded, “They need to be driving Hummer’s.” Yeah right, I think, most people want to eliminate our mail system all together; we will hardly fund a bigger, safer truck.  And some of us nodded, awkwardly confessing to having also missed a stop sign before, and added, “It’s easy to do, but she was going way too fast.”

I overheard the EMS person asking him, “Are you supposed to go to the hospital when you get into an accident? Is that what the post office wants you to do?” He answered, “I don’t know, this has never happened to me before.” We looked at one another, “Good answer.”

While the guys stood around, I heard them talking about how we have to take care of our mailmen and our neighborhood, and one said, “We haven’t had this much excitement since Harvey, and all the water, and watching Joe’s dog swim down the street. I again noticed the woman from the SUV. She was coming in for a closer look. I noticed too that I was kind of mad at her. I didn’t want to talk to her. I reached out anyway and asked, “Are you okay?” She said yes, but not with any invitation to continue our conversation as she walked away.

They put the mailman in the ambulance. The fire truck left. The police and eyewitnesses gathered across the street to do whatever they have to do, and the rest of us went back inside to our warm, cozy little mostly ranch-style homes.

The next morning I woke up early, couldn’t sleep; made tea while looking out my window to the corner where there was little evidence, save a slight oil stain, of all the excitement the day before. I thought about the mailman. I thought about how everyone came running out; curious, yes, but also wanting to help. I thought about how much I love my corner, my neighbors, and I love my neighborhood; and how we are a mini-model of the natural design and goodness of humans.

People need purpose.
The lady wanted to sit with him, gently touching his back. I wanted to offer a blanket and sit beside him on the curb with lightness and assurances that he was okay. A man shared his Yeti. Another fished the mailman’s phone and keys from the sideways truck (not as easy as one might think). People ran to the scene to help. Just like Harvey; just like we always do when we think someone might be in trouble.

People need community.
We came out of our homes and talked about our love of our mailman, by name, and our community. It became jovial once the level of damage was ascertained as minimal, but a brief hush hung over us when someone talked about how bad it would have been if someone had been walking close by when it happened. We collected and showed up in the concern and love of our community. It was almost palpable.

People need to understand what went wrong.
We asked questions about how it happened. This is what we humans do, or at least want to ask when hearing news of a death, or accident, or illness. We want to know what happened as if somehow connecting the cause and effect can prevent the same thing from happening to us, or a loved one.

I used to be apologetic for wanting to know why and how in the aftermath of bad news, but I am beginning to believe that it’s practically built into our DNA to want to figure it out, how it works or doesn’t. It’s natural that we want to know and plan and protect as if the random events of life can be figured out like numbered doors on The Price Is Right: Door #1 is a birthday cake, Door #2 a boat, but for heaven’s sake don’t pick Door #3 because behind that is a fast-moving car running stop signs.

We all know life is not like that, not three doors, not neat guaranteed agreements of behavior and consequences. And that we can know, and plan, and yet life still brings on what life brings. We can plan but we are not in control. But yesterday I was reminded that some things are dependable and predictable and lovely, like neighbors responding to a crash. And today as I remember the excitement on my corner, I wonder that I might consider it to be a mini, personal tipping point and invitation to broaden my boundaries and sense of community.

I do love my neighborhood.

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