A mom in our neighborhood got hit by a car while crossing the street a little over a week ago. Thankfully, she broke her leg and had a few stitches on her head, but was for the most part- OK. She has two beautiful daughters, both who’ve attended the library program with us for a long time now, and the older one is in Audrey’s ballet class as well.
When her husband recounted what happened to me last Saturday at ballet while us parents lean into the glass door to see what’s going on (usually Audrey’s going around hugging everyone), he told me how she’d been looking down as she crossed our busy road to get out quarters for the bus and the car hadn’t seen her. How she felt the hit and then just felt like she was in the air for a long time, thinking, “This is going to hurt when I land.” Probably to add lightness to what could possibly have been a very grave situation, he tells me she was more upset about her new jeans and coat that they cut off and destroyed in the ER. While I’m sure they were really shaken up, as I offered my babysitting services or other help, I felt the relief of what it feels like to have a close call. It is the mending, recovery time that comes after something scary- something that could have had permanent repercussions, but didn’t. It’s the whoah, that was scary- that was close- but everything’s OK now- as it should be…the trial- the safe retrieval and recovery, possibly lessons learned.
The other day I watched one of those TED video talks (Dan loved them) done by a man who survived the plane crash landing into the Hudson a couple of years ago. It’s a short talk in which he describes the thoughts that went on in his head when he heard the words from the pilot, “Brace for Impact.” What he says isn’t really surprising or revelatory- he learned what was most important to him was being a father and the most painful thought to him was missing out on his kids’ lives. There were a couple of other points, but they were even more obvious. I wonder if you thought that same thing, if you knew it was the end for you. If you were conscious at all, I know you thought of our daughter. But mostly, I think while the audience gives him a standing ovation that this too is more one of relief than epiphany. Thanks to a very skillful pilot, everyone was alright. He was OK and didn’t die in the end. He can now take with him on his journey a greater appreciation for what’s important in life.
We had an experience like this- you were attacked and stabbed in the subway. I received a phone call that night too- but it was different- it was your voice telling me you’d been stabbed and that you were at the hospital. I had let out a horrifying scream and seen myself hunched over, crying in the mirror. The two cats at the apartment where I was staying jumped on my furniture and cried as if they knew something very wrong had happened. We spent a night in the ER together- I watched your heart on a monitor. In it you saw a little stick figure beating a drum. I saw it too after you mentioned it. We clinked the liquid you had to drink before the cat scan. “Cheers,” we said. I watched you walk to the restroom in your bright green hospital gown- thinking how much I loved you. The stab wound had been 1/2″ from your heart or other vital organs…but you were…OK. I wrote then too- later writing an essay in grad school about the experience as a part of my thesis. But as I say, you were OK. You came home to your apartment to friends and Playstation 2 from your officemates. Then you came to my parents’ house where I lived at the time where you slept on my childhood twin bed, and I planted myself on the floor next to you. It was a close call- I didn’t want to leave your side. We got engaged later that year.
Close calls seem like they’d give you some insight into what it’d be like to not be so lucky- to not get the “Everything’s OK,” – the recovery time. The sigh of relief. But trust me, from someone who’s experienced both- they do not.
A close call cannot and will not teach you just how tenuous the strand that holds us to the earth- that holds you to your current world.
In the close call, there is hope and a future to love better, live out those lessons learned. There is a fullness- lists of things you will do better, appreciate more, things you don’t think matter anymore, things you won’t put off another day. If you’ve had a close call, do not try to empathize with someone who has actually lost- it will sound hollow.
When the real deal happens, there are just the permanent words, “Dan is dead,” that hit you like granite. There is no worrying or praying or hoping. There is no time of recovery and telling friends and family, “Yeah, it was scary…” There is no lesson learned by you, the survivor, that you wouldn’t trade in an instant for ignorance. There is emptiness- nothingness- annihilation.
There is no one to mend or nurse or promise to love better.
Life is like a blackboard. We write on it the things we are, the things we do. We fill it up, sometimes erasing what we have grown out of. …And it seems, when we step back from it as we grow up, that our blackboard is as filled as it could be: I was a mother, a wife, a lawyer, and a soccer coach and a Goodwill volunteer. Write those down. Go to sports cards shows with Wade or doll shows with Cate? Write those. Mark down going with the family to watch the Tar Heels. There is my book club, and there’s the PTA fundraising. Decorating the beach house. Sewing a Halloween costume. But there is always a corner into which some new friend, some new dream can be tucked. There was always room to add one more thing to the board. In the spring of 1996, my board was crammed full, and I had chalk in my hand.
And then Wade died.
In an instant, all of my blackboard was erased. And for the longest time, the blackboard stood empty.
Elizabeth Edwards, “Resilience”