In February, I was in a bad car accident. Driving from babysitting to my friends’ house in the suburbs, I accelerated through a green light. A drunk driver ran a red light, t-boned a car who then hit me. It was the first car accident I was in. Within minutes I could hear the police sirens. An officer arrived, made sure I was okay, and shifted gears to evaluating more urgent matters. Truly, the first responders, police officers and firefighters, kept me safe, calm and warm on the cold and scary February night.
As I sat in my car, it became clear to me pretty quickly that I wasn’t driving my car to my friends’ house anymore. I would end up having to crawl over the console to even get out of the car. My contact flew out of my left eye because of the contact. Before I called my parents who were two hours away, I knew I needed to call someone else. Someone who could come to me quickly. I needed my personal first responders.
The friends who came to get me that night were the BEST. They were in for the night, so they showed up to the scene with glasses on, one step away from their pajamas. He took pictures of the aftermath of the accident. She greeted me with a big hug and kept me company until we were ready to leave. They made sure I had everything out of my car. Once we got to our destination, they prayed for me and helped me come up with a plan for the next day.
The other set of friends (whose house I was headed to) called quickly after hearing what happened and said, “We think it’s a good idea if you still stay with us tonight. We’ll take care of you, and get you everything you need tomorrow, too.” And they did just that.
My first responders weren’t just my local friends. I had an out-of-town friend offer to call while I wanted for my friends to arrive. Another out-of-town friend called the next day to check-in.
All I had to do was ask for a ride on Monday morning to pick-up my rental car, and another friend stepped in to help. Texts came throughout the week. Church folks offered to go car shopping with me.
Reflecting on the countless ways that my friends stepped up for me in the week following the car accident challenged me to think about what it means to be a first responder.
Am I willing to let myself be inconvenienced on behalf of someone else?
It’s not usually convenient to be a first responder. You have to get some place quickly, and with little notice. If I’m only wanting a friendship for the moments that are easy, fun and Instagrammable, I’ll never be willing to put someone else’s needs ahead of my own.
Have I communicated that I’m ready to spring into action for someone before an emergency even happens?
The same friend who showed up at the scene of the accident is listed as my work emergency contact. We both have out of town family, and I asked her if it was okay to list her, she did the same for me. When she (and others) have shared that in an emergency, they didn’t know who to call, I’ve tried to say, “In the future, I’d be able to be there.”
Am I consistency reliable?
Trust is built one moment at a time. These were not new friends to me. Over the past five years, we’ve become increasingly comfortable asking each for things. Have there been times when we’ve been too busy to hang out? Yes. Reliability isn’t the same as availability. I knew that they would come because they’ve also been the friends to help me when I move and my people who check in on me when my parents have been sick. I hope I can be the same kind of friend back to them.
Do I offer to help even when the need doesn’t seem urgent?
Usually the first time someone calls you for help it’s not going to be an emergency. It may be a passing comment about how there’s someone sick in their family. Or how their ride to the airport fell through. Or that their husband is out of town for multiple days over the next several weeks. Those are small opportunities to build trust over time, to become someone who they would call in an emergency. Eventually, they’ll become comfortable enough to ask for something that not urgent, and then hopefully something that’s bigger and more immediate.
It’s okay if you’re not a first responder to friend who you would hang out with on a Saturday night. That level of vulnerability and reliability takes time and energy to cultivate. It’s likely that you have several friends who you either consider to be first responders or you can identify as having that potential. Take time to invest in those relationships. Communicate that you view them as such. It’s also okay if your short list of people shifts over time. That’s only natural, too.
We become the first responders in each other’s lives by responding. Best friends are not born overnight. The trust is built throughout years and by showing up. Over time, we prove our self as reliable and able to be counted on in someone’s most vulnerable moments.