Monday, October 22, 2007


It happened so quickly, I hardly had time to understand it. At my daughter’s swim lesson this week, as I sat across the pool and waved at her, one of the other children in the class lost her grip on the side of the pool and began bobbing up and down in the water. Just as I thought, “wait a minute - what’s that kid doing?” the lifeguard ran over and pulled her out. The instructor was just a few feet away in the water; the girl’s mother was about 10 feet away on the side of the pool, and a posse of parents were watching their children swim in different classes – and yet the girl lost her grip and went under, almost unnoticed.

The speed at which emergencies happen still shocks me. The day my daughter fell on the playground several years ago, I was standing right next to her but had looked away for a moment. When I looked back, I found her crying and bleeding, the skin split under her chin. How quickly can I stop what I’m doing and thinking, understand what just happened, and react the right way when I need to? Smoke pours out of a house window, a woman collapses on a train, a car lies upside down on the road, its wheels still spinning – I have witnessed all of these.

An emergency requires you to stop and focus, and that can be hard to do because we’re so unfocused much of the time. We’re often multitasking, visually bombarded with print and video images, and thinking of the next thing we have to do – not what’s in front of us. I think that we might be worse at handling emergencies now than we were in the past, when it was easier to see if something seemed out of place, easier to hear if someone cried out.