Going on 26 years now, I’ve been a police officer in the town of Malverne on Long Island, N.Y. Day and night I patrol the streets on the lookout to protect my neighbors from vandals, thieves and sometimes worse. I know that no matter how many rounds I make, I can’t be everywhere at once. But sometimes I find myself in just the right place at just the right time.
I was working the midnight to eight shift a few days before Christmas one year. It was bitter cold, and by three o’clock mine was the only car on the road. I’d been all over town that night, but there was still one run I hadn’t made: the parkway. That was technically state police territory, but some of our houses backed up against the highway, so the local force took an interest too. I drove along the parkway, listening to the crunch of my tires in the frozen snow. Nothing going on out here either, I thought. I approached the exit back to town, but for some reason I didn’t take it. I kept driving. I’d catch the next exit up ahead.
The parkway was built on a raised bank, and I could feel the wind from over the treetops battering the sides of the car. Dark woods stretched downhill on either side of the highway, and I drove cautiously in the right-hand lane watching the long path my high beams cut on the road ahead. Suddenly something commanded me, Pull over! It came as a whisper but was urgent and strong nonetheless.
I steered my cruiser into the breakdown lane and stopped at an angle, my headlights shining down the gentle, snow-covered slope into the thick woods below. What was I looking for? Directly in front of my car the hard snow was broken and scattered. Something had gone over the edge. I buttoned my coat, grabbed my flashlight and went to investigate. Below, a Ford two-door was stopped against a tree at the edge of the wood, partly hidden by hanging pine branches. The motor was silent, lights dead. I hope no one’s in there. Not in this cold. I got closer and shined my flashlight in the passenger window. My heart jumped. A woman was sprawled on her back across the front seat. I rapped on the glass. She didn’t move. Am I too late? I opened the door. The car was cold as an icebox, and the woman was breathing in quick, steamy gasps. She was groaning, holding her stomach with both hands. It bulged under her loose dress. She was pregnant.
“Ma’am?” I said, shining the flashlight in her eyes, and she blinked at me with a panicked expression. “Help me,” she murmured. “I think I’m in labor.”
“You’ll be okay now. I’m going to run down to my car and come right back.”
I stumbled up the icy hill to my cruiser and radioed for help. “Make it fast!” I said. I grabbed a blanket from the trunk and slid back down to the woman. I tried to remember everything I’d learned at the academy about emergency childbirth. “Stay calm,” I said, and wrapped the blanket around her. “Help is on the way.” Eventually I saw the red lights of the ambulance flashing from the highway and heard the paramedics get out.
“Over here!” I called as they struggled downhill with the stretcher. The woman was barely conscious when they put her in the ambulance. I followed them to the hospital, then turned back toward town to finish my patrol. When I called the hospital, the woman had already delivered a healthy baby girl.
Two days later, dressed in my civilian clothes, I visited the new mom in the hospital. She didn’t recognize me at first.
“My name is Stan,” I said, “Stan Kid.” Her face brightened.
“They told me what you did” she said. “I can never thank you enough. You saved our lives.”
She had hit a patch of black ice and skidded off the highway. Her door was pinned closed when she hit the tree and the other wouldn’t open from the inside. The car was dead, so she couldn’t use the lights or heater or roll down the electric windows. She was trapped.
“I blew the horn for hours,” she said, “and then the first contractions came. I just lay there praying God would send an angel to rescue me.”
I thought of my decision not to turn off at my usual exit. And then the command to stop right at the spot where she went over. “He was listening,” I said. “But God didn’t send you an angel. Just a cop.”
She smiled at that and asked me if I’d like to see her baby. We went down to the nursery together, and she introduced me to her beautiful, bright-eyed little girl. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “but I named her after you.”
I stared at her in astonishment. A girl called Stan?
“No, not Stan,” she said. “Angela, for my angel of a cop.”
Maybe she had a point. When I find myself in the right place at the right time it’s because God put me there.