Written August 24, 2009
I went to work as a public affairs specialist for the Forest Service when I was 21, after working as an intern for the agency for a year. In this job, I served as a spokesperson, so I would spend a fair amount of time on television, a lot of time on the radio and was quoted quite a bit in newsprint.
Fairly early in my career, my boss told me that if she had my voice and was going to be in the public eye as much as I was, she would see a voice coach because I sounded too young.
I didn't get the voice training and, occasionally, when I hear a recording of my voice, I realize, yes, I suppose it sounds a little young -especially now for a woman of MY AGE.
Last Thursday, I found myself sitting on the shoulder of the road along I-17, between Camp Verde and Phoenix. I was hunched over a tan, battered car seat, looking inside the upside down carrier, stroking the chubby thigh of a whimpering 9-month-old baby boy. He was sticky with blood, with a gouged and bleeding forehead on one side of his face, cherubic cheeks, and long black lashes framing the one closed eye I could see. He was frowning and quietly complaining in his little red shirt and blood-soaked diaper.
His little fist was wrapped around my finger and I wished he would grip it a little tighter, instead of kind of limply hanging on. As he sat there on that hot pavement, dangling from the straps of his carseat, I sat right there with him.
And I talked to him.
I talked to him in a low, quiet voice that was meant just for us. I told him it would all be ok, that his mama was "right over there, right next to you," that he was precious, to "shhhhhhhh" and that "I know, baby, I know."
For 45 minutes, I sat with him - lifting my head only for seconds at a time to ask for anything to slide under his baby thigh to protect it from the blistering heat of the blacktop that had been baking all morning under the August Arizona sky; to remind the guy holding the baby's 2-yr-old sister that he needed to keep her awake, because she was drifting as a result of her head wound; to ask the off-duty cop attending to the mother trapped under the overturned car, to please tell her that her baby is ok. And to ask again for someone to please give me something to put under that chubby little thigh.
I would only turn my attention from the baby for a few seconds to make a request, then would go right back to that little guy, and that singular voice that I realized I recognized.
I recognized it from a few weeks ago when we rushed Macy home from a pool party during an asthma attack, when I quietly urged her to breathe slower. Reassuring her when we finally got her home and her lips were wrapped around the mouthpiece of her breathing machine, but her eyes were wildly searching mine, that the air really would finally come, that help was right there.
I recognized it from the hours and days in the hospital with Tanner, when I would maintain eye contact with him and talk to him as he was going through a frightening procedure and I couldn't hold him; or, when I crawled in his hospital bed with him and curled around him and repeated promises of relief as he writhed in pain that no medicine could touch.
I recognized the same quiet tones, the familiar cadence, the gentle words that always come when a mother speaks to a child who needs at that moment more than ever to know they are not alone. That a mother is nearby. Even if it isn't their mother.
And during those moments on that burning roadway, with helicopters beating the air, emergency personnel shouting commands, the droning hum of idled engines, worried truck drivers with tears brimming coming to check on the baby and turning away helpless, I once again had the privilege of being on the "errand of angels" as motherhood is described in the scriptures.
Walking up on the accident once the dust began to settle from the crash, an older man looked at me with a stricken face and said, "Ma'am, will you please go look in that car seat over there and see if that baby is ok." I didn't want to - I didn't know what I would find. But, I was the only other mother on the scene, besides the one wailing and trapped under the car, and I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
And I knew the only thing I could give that baby whose little body I couldn't take in my arms, and whose brow I couldn't stroke, was a mother's voice, over and over, quietly shutting out the chaos, and speaking in a rhythm and cadence that was the closest thing to gently rocking him that I could achieve.
I recognized the voice I was using, because I'd used it so often before, but I didn't recognize it as my own. I recognized it as the voice of every mother soothing a child, and pictured the angels surrounding me who had their hands on my shoulders and on the carseat, and lightly resting on that precious baby, and understood their voices were mixed in there, too. That as women, when we are on the errand of angels, they are attendant, too.
And, I had one more memory come to mind of that voice - of my own mother, soothing away an earache when I was a little girl. Pressing a towel warmed in the oven against my ear, quietly urging me to make the pain small, make it small enough to put in a tiny box; telling me, "I love you little girl, lots" and continuing to soothe with repeated words and phrases, over and over, lulling me gently until my eyes were closed.
That little boy was eventually flown away from me and we were left wiping the blood off ourselves and each other - each of us who had in some way "held" those little children. And, I was so grateful that the old, scared man had recognized that as a woman, and therefore a mother, I surely had the strength to face whatever was needed for that unknown bundle hidden under the castaway car seat. And, as scared as I was to find whatever I would find, it didn't really occur to me that I wouldn't somehow hold and coo at the precious baby who needed comfort.
So, to the former boss who would say my voice isn't somehow "right" for me, I would say, it doesn't matter. I am so grateful for what my voice can be, when called upon in otherwise helpless moments: the voice of a mother - any mother - blended with those of the angels who are always standing by.
Love from the farm and far from the freeway,