WE SHRUGGED OFF our winter coats, my husband and I, and secured them onto hooks before following the tantalizing aroma of turkey and meatballs into the church basement dining area.
I grabbed a plate and the volunteers passed it down the line, spooning on mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, turkey and two Swedish meatballs.
Then I heard the clatter, the sound of a cane falling upon tile and saw the elderly man directly behind me lying face down, motionless, on the floor between the serving line and the table for take-outs.
“Call 911,” I ordered my husband. I knew, given my hearing loss, that I wouldn’t be able to hear above the drone of conversation filling the basement at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Community Christmas Dinner.
At some point, a server took the plate from my hand. “Give it to someone else,” I said.
“Is there a nurse here?” I asked as a cluster gathered around the fallen man. I mostly wanted someone to be with him, down there on the floor, comforting him until the paramedics arrived. And there was and that relieved me although I was still very much worried.
I felt helpless standing there, camera bag slung over one shoulder, camera on the other. I couldn’t simply take back my plate, sit down like nothing had happened and enjoy my Christmas meal.
Eventually, the man was eased off the floor and onto a chair and I sought out my husband who stood outside the glass doors in the bitter cold talking on the phone with the emergency dispatcher. I relayed that the man was now sitting and alert. And I wondered why the rescue squad had not yet arrived from two blocks away, knowing full well from personal experience that time seems to stand still when you are in need of emergency services.
And so the story ended. No broken bones. No heart attack. Not even shattered eyeglasses as the unsteady aged man tripped on a table leg and plunged forward, his fall broken only by the shoe of the woman scooping mashed potatoes at the beginning of the serving line.
If not for that shoe, he would have smashed face first onto the tile.
It seemed a Christmas miracle.
And so I stepped back into the serving line, the crew filling my plate for the second time. I pondered how grateful I am to live in a community where volunteers cook and serve savory meals in church basements and, when in a time of need, are there to comfort and assist.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling