O nce I became a riding instructor, Fridays became a day for long trail rides. I’d either go alone or with my friend Nili, an educational consultant in a girls’ high school and a fellow riding instructor in Retorno. Over the past two years, Nili and I have traversed every hill, dale, and dusty trail within a ten-mile radius.

One Friday, we set out for Mitzpe Harel. We were somewhat unsure of our route, but we had the whole day ahead of us, and we were content to meander along. At high noon, we crossed a narrow gully and found ourselves in a small thicket of young trees. Nili was ahead of me. She suddenly turned around, covered her mouth, and pointed.

My eyes followed her hand. And I froze.

Not 20 feet away, there was a man hanging from a tree branch.

I might have felt something, then. Shock, perhaps, or horror. But whatever those feelings were, they were beyond reach. In emergencies, I automatically shift to a state of heightened focus and problem-solving.

Nili is like that, too. But she’s an auxiliary policewoman, so she’s trained to deal with the unexpected. She jumped off her horse and ran over to the tree to see if there was still a chance to save him.

It was too late; he’d been there for some time. Nili contacted her police supervisor, who issued a series of instructions.

Besides making sure the horses were settled, there was nothing for me to do but watch, leaving me free to think. To feel.

But I wasn’t ready to feel, not yet. Not when I still might need to be active, clear, and focused. I needed something to keep the wall up.

I settled on self-criticism. Why are you just standing here doing nothing? Be with Nili!

I responded to that by asking myself, quite rationally, how my bustling around with Nili would help. She needed space.

But how can you stand in the shade while she’s baking in the sun, probably doubly traumatized by doing this alone?

The focused, calm part of me assured me that there was no point in both of us getting dehydrated. Or traumatized; I’d seen only the man’s back, what purpose could there be in my seeing his face? What’s more, I knew that as “wrong” as I felt doing nothing, my desire to be useful was really just a need to feel important.

After several minutes, Nili approached me. “We need to stand by the road,” she said, “so the police can find us.”

Us.

Finally, something useful for me to do. I handed Nili a bottle of water and we walked to the roadside.

The police arrived first — three vehicles. Then an ambulance, a motorcycle, and two army jeeps. They asked if we knew the man or had any additional information. They asked for our names and phone numbers.

They let us go. We rode in silence, a slow, thoughtful walk up a long, dirt path that dissected a forest of pines, each of us processing the horrible scene we’d stumbled upon. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 556)