Every mother harbors nightmares about losing her child. It’s what makes us nag and remind and question and stay up in wait for the headlights in the driveway. We only want to keep them safe. We wrongly imagine it is within our power. This past weekend that nightmare was a reality for a mom in my town. I don’t know her, but she has weighed on my heart ever since the moment I heard that a five-year-old had been struck and killed by a delivery van.
It was an accident. The van wasn’t driving too fast. The driver wasn’t doing anything irresponsible. The little boy was probably being a typical little boy – impulsive, energetic, easily distracted. I imagine he was happy to be out with his mom on such a day as Saturday. It was a gorgeous, blue sky, gentle breezes picture perfect day. Not the kind of day to be pierced by something so tragic.
I heard the sirens. I was puttering in my gardens. I have a friend who once worked as a surgeon in an emergency room. Days like this were busy days for her – people are out and active she told me– motorcycle riders without helmets, kids falling out of tree forts, accidents at picnics and concerts and fairs and sporting events. I worried when I heard the sirens and did what I always do – mentally sorted through my own children’s whereabouts.
Facebook was busy with a swirl of speculation. But later, the news confirmed that the little boy had died. My heart kept coming back to this fact and the ungodly pain engulfing the world of someone nearby. Pain so enormous that its edges were touching me here, miles away.
At quiet moments for days now, she is on my mind. I can be washing dishes or hanging out laundry or sifting through the mail. My heart catches and a lump forms in my stomach. I say a prayer, but it seems paltry. I can’t begin to fathom the depths of her pain. In my heart I wrap my arms around her. I whisper, “It could have been any of us.”
I remember the time my own child – two at the time – was nearly hit. She slipped our attention for mere moments. Her older brother chased after her and caught her before she stepped off the sidewalk into the oncoming traffic. I considered buying one of those child-leashes and began carrying her more and more afraid to let her out of my grasp.
A few months after that we’d left that same child playing in the backyard, busy with her Beanie Babies and her little red wagon while we walked around to the side of the house to work in a garden. A few minutes later we spied her, towing the wagon up the road in front of our house. We lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at that time. Our house sat far back from the road at the end of a windy gravel driveway. The road in front of the house intersected with a loop that circled a neck of land that jutted out into the Choptank River and was a frequent favorite for drag racing teens. Many evenings we would listen as cars rounded the turn onto our road, spraying gravel and revving their unmuffled engines. My husband and I spotted her at the same time and sprinted across the neighboring field after her. I can still remember those minutes – running so hard I thought my heart would burst, gasping for breath, collapsing in tears when I saw him reach her first and scoop her up, leaving the wagon in the road.
Somehow we stayed on the safe side of fate.
I can’t imagine how you move on from this. The unwarranted blame that would haunt your soul. The memories that would break your heart on a daily basis. Every gorgeous day. Every tiny hand held. Every taken for granted moment.
It’s a small thing, but I wonder if I am not the only person carrying around this tiny fraction of a stranger’s pain. I wonder if enough of us feel it, if her pain will be softened somehow. It is certainly too much for one mother to bear. It is not fair or right or even acceptable. There is nothing that can make it better. I can’t imagine the courage it will take for this mother to get herself out of bed. How hard it will be to mother her other children. To drive past that spot. To wonder where her child’s soul has gone and why it was taken so soon. To ask why my child?
Why is one of those bottomless questions – too big to get your mind around. And yet it always begs the question, Why not?
Indeed. So I go about my day taking care of what is in front of me, less likely to complain today. Feeling grateful, as if I dodged some kind of threat. And all too aware that none of us are safe. And there is very little we can do about that fact, except maybe be a little more humbled by the blessings of our lives. Be a little more present with the gift of the days we are given and the people who fill them.