On Confidence: The River (Part II of III)



Part I of this essay.

Continuing to explore confidence, I think of my friend Sarah’s experience. There are two cars in the river, an upside-down sedan and a right-side-up pickup truck, three people in the truck and four in the car. Most of the passengers get themselves out of their vehicle and out of the river, but two are stuck between the dash and the seats, unable to get out, unable to stay above the water.

Firefighters have stabilized the cars when black-suited divers wade in the cold snowmelt, breaking windows and tearing metal. They can’t get to the people fast enough. The air is bleak. In the back of her ambulance an EMT feels pulses, checks blood pressures, and asks questions in a quiet voice, her heart full of sadness and intimacy with these people, the ones who got out of the river.

The EMT was my friend Sarah. She told me about an encounter she experienced soon after the accident.

A few days after the accident, Sarah settles in the vinyl chair in front of a mirror, feet on a metal footrest, her wet hair dripping. The air smells of shampoo and hair spray and the stylist is combing her hair out when the door of the salon opens.

“Hello, I’m early, take your time,” says the woman.

She sits down in the empty barber chair next to Sarah’s and pulls a newspaper out of her bag. On the cover is an aerial view of the accident, the large black identification numbers on the roof of Sarah’s ambulance in the center of the photo.

“I don’t understand why on earth they say they couldn’t get those people out of that car,” the woman says, shaking her head and motioning towards the picture.

“The river is so low right now,” she continues, “I don’t think it would cover the wheels of a car, much less an entire car.”

Sarah remembers the divers standing in the river, water up to their armpits.

The woman continues on: what a poor job the fire department did, the river is practically dry right now, those people should have been out of the water within minutes, did the emergency crews try at all? Sarah listens quietly. Occasionally the stylist says appropriate nothings, “I’m sure they did everything they could,” and “it is very sad,” and mostly makes vague, possibly agreeable noises.

I’m horrified listening as Sarah tells this story. Have I unknowingly acted so oblivious to another person’s experience, I wonder? Sarah was there, caring for patients, everyone aware of the people who couldn’t get out of the cars, out of the river. Telling me about it, Sarah was both indignant and sad. “How could she say that?” she asks me. “I was there.”

I don’t have answers for her. Would this woman pick the “I don’t know” choice on a test? Would she claim to know the mountain well?

I read about the importance for women to speak in clear statements without using minimizing words. Strong statements convey confidence; overconfident statements unknowingly trample souls. How to differentiate between the two? Her words were without indication that perhaps other experiences existed. The woman in the beauty shop was confidently wrong, or perhaps, wrongly confident.

Can I make bold, certain statements without denying another’s experience, experience that may be more accurate than my own?

Is that confidence?

Part III

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