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purple butterfly

The snowstorm was one of those late season avalanches, in March of 1976, interrupting everyone’s expectations of what should be coming. The blooms of daffodils and forsythia  should be just around the corner, and everyone should be getting ready for spring garden parties and Easter egg hunts. Instead, two feet of wet snow clogged the streets and brought school schedules, traffic, factory production, business and everything else to a halt.

The siren of the local volunteer fire department and rescue squad alerted me to the mid-day need, when ministers and third shift workers were usually the only ones available to respond. Who knew who could show up today? Driving the car three blocks to the station was out of the question. Running would have to do. Fortunately the high carriage of the rescue truck would plow through the snow-filled streets better than most other vehicles. I met Mike and Bill at the station, we jumped into our gear, and headed  a mile east of the station, to a beauty salon from which the emergency call had come.

A block and a half short of the salon we came to a halt in a snow bank in the middle of the street. We bailed out of the truck, hauled our emergency gear cases, and trudged as fast as we could to the salon. The hairdresser-beauty operator met us at the door, frantic and near hysterical.

In the middle of the salon floor, flat on her back, lay a lovely woman, in her mid-thirties, neatly dressed in a spring dress, her skin shading to gray and blue, not breathing.  She had rushed several blocks through the snow to make her weekly hair appointment, arrived on time, and, after removing her light coat, but before she had a chance to sit in the salon chair, she had collapsed. How long had it been? To my mind it had been at least ten minutes from the time that the siren had blown, but who had kept track? When had she stopped breathing?

Bill was the old hand among us, but he had a cold, so giving advice and communicating by radio and telephone was his appropriate role. We had to proceed with checking her clear airway, beginning artificial respiration, and chest compressions, as we were trained to do in those days. Mike took the first turn in mouth to mouth, and I alternated with him, both of us losing the contents of our stomachs sometime during the next hour of intimate contact, with no response.

Bill tried valiantly to arrange for a snowplow and another ambulance to come in tandem, but in the end the best that he could get was the funeral director’s station wagon following the snowplow, after we had given up on the principle that “having started CPR, one did not stop.”

She had a husband and two young children. She was about the same age as Mike and I. What could possibly have been so important about her beauty appointment that she pushed herself through the snow for events that would most certainly be cancelled during the days to come, except for her own funeral? Neither Mike nor I were feeling particularly healthy at that point, not that we regretted trying to revive her, but everything we had done certainly proved futile.

That was how we prepared for spring, and Easter, that year. In the face of such futility and pointless death, we had to insist that sometime, somewhere, there had to be a point to our foolish living. We would look for it. Maybe we would find it.

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