Manuela could only think about her own sons as she performed CPR on the victim in the street.
Would we really be prepared if we knew in advance what would happen to us during the day ahead? Many of us today are world champions of manic planning and pathological anxiety. We’re always on the defensive when it comes to the unexpected, and always on the attack if something goes wrong.
And then there comes a time when reality steps out into the street in front of us and asks a lot more of us than we’d anticipated. We’re not ready, but we’re there.
In Rome, a taxi driver and an angel by chance
Such was the situation in Rome at the beginning of October when a taxi driver named Manuela Giangreco found herself unforeseeably in an emergency situation. She reacted promptly, giving lifesaving aid to a young man in danger of death. Italian website Leggo reported the story on October 11, 2021.
Rome and traffic are two words which, when brought together, conjure up apocalyptic images for those who have experienced it. In recent days, the capital of Italy has been the scene of violent protests, while until just a few weeks ago videos of wild boars and porcupines walking serenely through the abandoned city streets were common. The road is a jungle, they say, and any experienced taxi driver in Rome has earned degrees honoris causa in anthropology, neuropsychiatry, humor, and international relations.
Manuela Giangreco has been doing this job since 2009, so she must have seen some bizarre things in Rome’s traffic, but not on the scale of what she encountered a few days ago. Leggo reports:
She heard a woman screaming desperately among the cars stuck in traffic on Viale delle Belle Arti. And so she, a 47-year-old cab driver, instinctively left her cab and got out to see what was happening. A little further on she saw a young man on the ground in a pool of blood, a scooter on the streetcar tracks, and a woman outside her car, completely in shock, asking for help.
Taxi drivers are used to having to respond promptly to calls from unknown customers. They usually take two or three minutes to arrive. Manuela hadn’t counted on needing to respond to a call for help in a matter of seconds. In these cases, there’s no time for reasoning, pondering, or evaluating. Our very presence becomes a “yes” in action.
Something serious had clearly happened. A 22-year-old man from Northern Europe was lying on the ground with his eyes wide open. Probably a scooter accident had thrown him violently to the ground. The details weren’t clear, and the moment of an emergency isn’t the right time for reconstructions and blame, but for being there to help.
The accident occurred in a central area of Rome during rush hour, so we can imagine that there were plenty of other people around. Yet, this sudden call was answered by Manuela, who has no special medical skills, but who knelt down to give CPR to the victim for as long as it took to save his life. And she did it with the tenacity of a mother, not with the lucidity of an experienced rescuer. Leggo reports:
He looked dead. “I reacted on impulse,” Manuela sayes. “I knelt down to give him CPR. It didn’t seem to work, but I persisted: I couldn’t let him go. I have three young children and, in those very long moments, all I could think about was that this boy had to be saved. So I continued until he opened his eyes. He smiled at me and only at that moment did I start to breathe again myself.”
Perhaps, when she thinks back on it with hindsight, she could even think of it as giving birth. She saw him as her own son, and rushed into trying to protect that life. She herself began to breathe again when the boy moved his eyes and smiled.
A mother doesn’t just give life to her child; she accompanies her child into the world. In the same way, people can’t save other people and still keep a distance; rather, they participate in the mystery that is the destiny of each person, as sometimes necessarily stubborn collaborators of life.
Emergencies create a sudden identification between victim and rescuer, because both are in the presence of a burning truth: we are very vulnerable. The young man was transported to the Umberto I Polyclinic ICU and is now out of danger. We can guess that Manuela has returned to “normal life,” but has changed: how does one look at the world, at ordinary things, after having touched with one’s own hand how precious and fragile our existence is in this world?
Angel by chance, but not alone
That readiness to say “yes” to good, pervaded by pure love of God, belongs to the angels, but we are children of the same Father. Like the angels, though differently, we too are guardians. For this reason, sometimes an incredible and sudden “yes” escapes us. Such actions do not arise from courage or our own will or attention, but from an instinct that is rooted in our origin and that of all things: God’s own “yes” to Creation. He willed us to be part of it before we even existed. The echo of that love nudges us beyond our consciousness or intentions, and it’s comforting to admit it—for us who are serial programmers and habitually anxious.
“The doctors told me I did well, but I only did what needed to be done. Today I am in Assisi to thank St. Francis for giving me courage,” the taxi driver told Leggo.
This is how Manuela concludes her story. And gratitude is the most realistic epilogue possible. This impulse, at times sudden and irreflexive, to launch ourselves into the wounded heart of the world to save it, is never a solitary undertaking. We are caretakers of those around us, but always in turn we are cared for and accompanied.