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The Heart of Stone



In my days as a volunteer Firefighter/EMT, I confess I have seen a wealth of human compassion and greatness. But also, I have seen humanities dark and cruel side, those things that are left to shadows and secrets. Whatever we are confronted with as emergency responders, we meet those challenges, and do what we can to alleviate suffering. Some are harder than others. Some tear our hearts out, and leave us different than before the call came.


I’ll tell you in the beginning… this isn’t a sad story. And maybe the only point it will have, is to give you the courage to love beyond yourself, even when it makes no sense at the time.




Many times in EMS you get repeat calls to different places, you have the lonely old widow who hits her call button, because she loves having a room full of people come fuss over her. You have the little child whose life hangs with every breath, and who needs often to be rushed to the hospital. And then you have the domestics… this is one of those stories.


I can’t tell you her name. I wouldn’t even if I could remember it. But a woman lived in my district seemingly trapped in an abusive relationship. Inevitably he would beat her, and inevitably she would stay. The cycle of abuse was something a lot of the guys had watched her go through several different times. They all knew who she was, and in truth there was a certain jaded regard for what she was allowing herself to stay in. But I had not met her yet.


And then one day… he beat her badly…. very badly.  And this is the day I met her for the first time.


I can’t tell you if I could have figured out her natural appearance, had I seen her on another day. But what I was faced with now, was a terrified and broken woman. Bloodied and swollen, my heart broke to see what had been done to her. She was put on a back board, and secured for transport. She had taken enough hits to the head for there to be a need to keep her head and neck still, as a precaution.


Beyond distressed, she couldn’t tolerate the thought of a man riding in the back with her to the hospital. As I was the only woman to respond to the call, that made the job of attending her mine. She cried, and spoke about her life, the abuse she had suffered. I let her talk. I murmured encouragements to let her speak her feelings. I didn’t direct the conversation, and I didn’t advise her. I just let her pour it out. But what happened in hearing about her sad life, was that my own heart was pricked with a love for this woman who was so helpless. She felt unloved. She felt worthless. I was deeply moved.


I listened to her declare that she was never going back to the man that beat her again.


We arrived at the ER, unloaded her from the rig, and handed her over to the care of nursing staff. But I kept thinking about her, as I was cleaning the rig. I kept thinking how much in that moment, because of her need, that there was no one in the world I cared about more. I wanted to be able to tell her that someone cared, that she was cherished. But I didn’t know how. How do you express something unexpected that like? Pure compassion born of sorrow?  In this world we live it, it’s often thought of as strange, or bizarre to express an altruistic feeling.


As I was putting away the gurney, I looked down and saw on the pavement a little stone shaped like a heart. I picked it up, and suddenly wanted very much for her to have it. As a sign, and a token, that someone cared. I wrote a note on a piece of paper to her. I wish I could tell you what thing I said. I do not know. Maybe it’s better that way. But I know it told her that she was loved.  I wrapped the stone with the note, and went inside. I found myself thinking that I was about to look like an idiot. I couldn’t understand what possessed me to do this. I understood why, but it seemed so strange even to me, that I should feel the drive to do this. I am sure my face was red, and I can remember the nervous pounding in my heart when I walked back into the ER. I milled around the nurse’s desk, watching my Assistant Chief speak with the ER staff. I kept vacillating about what to do. Obey the urge, and risk being taken a fool? Or walk out, and be safe? The Assistant Chief indicated it was time to go, and headed out the door. I followed. I almost got to the ambulance when I told him I would be right back. I could not bare the weight of deciding to be a coward. Even if no one else knew, if she never knew, I would know.


I couldn’t see the patient since they were busy working with her at the moment. So I gave the note to a nurse at the desk. I asked her to give it to the patient when they had a chance, and I left.




A long distance of time would pass. I can’t even tell you how long. But there came a day, when at a community event, that I heard an ecstatic voice call my name. I turned to see a beautiful woman pushing through the crowd to where I was at. She was radiantly beautiful, with a smile to light a room. When she reached me, she kept smiling and talking, and nothing was making sense. This woman was telling me about her life. And I did not know who she was.


The woman stopped talking, and started to laugh. She smiled and said, “You don’t remember me do you???”


I apologized, and told her no, I did not.


She opened her purse in that moment, and took out the heart of stone…. and the note.


I was speechless.


She started to tell me the story of what happened to her after I left. That she was given the note with the stone inside. How it made her cry when she received it, and how it gave her the courage to change her life. She also told me that there was never a moment, since she received it, that the stone was not with her.


Then she started telling me about the life she had now. How full it was. How happy she was. That she had, after a while, found the love of her life. That it would not have happened if I had not done this one small act for her. I had given her hope.


We hugged after a time, and then she went her way.


I am not sure who was more changed, or who was more blessed in that moment. It is said that the kindness we give, will be revisited upon us. I knew in that moment it was true. I thanked God for the courage I had mustered to give her that token. I know it was Him, not anything in me that brought this all to pass. But I was rewarded for my part. And in a way… given courage also.


Love is the simplest gift. It changes everything in its wake. It can be found and shown in so many ways, if only we will dare.


Even in a heart of stone.






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