Have You Ever Saved Anyone’s Life?

Orange life ring

Recently, at a birthday party, I fell into conversation with three friends and, to my astonishment, I discovered that all three of them had saved someone’s life.

One had saved a child from drowning in a hotel pool.

One had saved her own son from choking at dinner at a restaurant.

One had done both—he’d saved a man from choking on a piece of bread, and saved a child from being swept out into the ocean.

What struck me was my friends’ attitudes toward what they’d done. I expected them to describe these stories with elation, excitement, triumph—to feel so happy about what they’d done. I would’ve thought that for the rest of their lives, they could comfort themselves with the thought, “No matter what else I did or didn’t accomplish, I saved a life.”

But in fact, they seemed almost…haunted…by what had happened. I could tell that they still felt very shaken, describing the events. They kept talking about the near-miss, their fear of what could’ve happened—and even feelings of almost-guilt, of what they would have felt if they’d failed.

I’d always assumed that it was very rare for someone to save someone’s life, but maybe it’s more common than I thought. How have I never thought to ask a doctor what it feels like to save someone’s life?

Sometimes, too, people save someone’s life less directly. They offer help at just the right time, or they provide crucial information.

Sometimes, it’s enough to make a simple remark: when the student is ready, the teacher appears. A friend got out of a terribly destructive relationship when someone said to her, “You act like he’s smarter than you, that’s he’s more attractive than you. But it’s obvious that you’re smarter and better-looking than he is.” For whatever reason, that comment sunk in.

Have you ever saved someone’s life? Or has someone saved your life? How do you feel about it?

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