What Didn't Happen
What Didn't Happen: June 17, 2015
I was drying my hair when the doorbell rang. I figured it was the FedEx delivery so I kept drying. I’d taken a shower downstairs because a) that shower works and b) I thought I might have some privacy. Yeah. I was barely wet before Jack and Emma decided the bathroom would be the perfect Bat Cave.
It was only a good cave while I was there, apparently, because they immediately swerved screaming and sneezing through my upstairs bathroom when I’d dried off and was putting on lotion. Super hero and side kick spinning, laughing, shrieking. Life pulsing, relentless. Anything but quiet.
I have so little quiet these days.
Emma is driving us all crazy. She is coiled energy and strong opinions but she isn’t talking yet. So there’s a lot of emphatic pointing and a most annoying high-pitched “nyah? nyah! dat? Dat? DAT!!” Even the white noise of the dryer was preferable but my hair is too short for it to be a real respite.
I was thinking about my Uncle Charlie. He had died the day before. Peacefully at home, they said, after a happy day with my aunt and cousins around him. He was a man of abundant life and verve.
He continually attempted the impossible: growing corn at the beach; being on time AND making this one other quick stop; incorporating modern architecture into the historical flair of Wilmington, NC. He very often succeeded. (Not so much with the corn.) His parties always featured prizes.
Uncle Charlie had a passion for preservation but was also a proponent of progress. He knew that buildings must sometimes be demolished. And he insisted that “whatever replaces it should atone for its loss.”
I grieve but I can also celebrate his life well lived, his accomplishments, his love given and received. That is the way the world is supposed to work.
But how often does the world work the way it’s supposed to work?
The length of a meter is supposed to be one ten-millionth of the distance between the pole and the equator. (The fact that it’s not is the subject of Ken Adler’s recent book, The Measure of All Things.)
Lately while driving I’ve been musing on this “quarter-meridian” shape as I fiddle with a small chunk of granite. It’s a pyramid with one curved quarter-meridian face. Think of the Earth halved along the Equator and then the top cut into quarters. I found the rock under a wiper when I was inspecting the 10-inch jagged crack in my windshield.
A couple of months ago Emma and I were driving along Wade Hampton Boulevard: eight lanes of whizzing cars, speeding delivery trucks and the occasional suicidal motorcyclist. It was pouring rain and I was going about 50 when a truck passed me and POW! I thought it was a gunshot or a blown tire. A big tire. Then I understood that it must be my windshield but in the downpour I couldn’t see the damage.
It was another 2 miles before I was struck with a thought: I could have been struck by a rock.
I was a bit shaky and profoundly grateful for the technology of the windshield to absorb and deflect the energy of a 100 mile-an-hour lethal projectile. I was profoundly grateful for what hadn’t just happened.
There have been other things that didn’t happen.
Jack was asleep at our friends’ house when their curious Rottweiler sniffed him awake and, startled, bit him on his chunky, fleece-covered thigh. A couple of punctures and a lot of bruising. Nobody’s fault. But it could just as easily have been his exposed, 18 month-old throat.
There was that time hiking I almost stepped on a snake. There was the car that stopped before hitting us when I slipped, distracted, through the red light. The disastrous, melodramatic letter my know-it-all early 20s self somehow managed not to mail. The job that Mark didn’t get that would have necessitated another move.
The doorbell rang again.
With a sigh I turned off the dryer, put on a robe and went to the door. Not FedEx.
The special delivery was Emma in the arms of a woman I didn’t know who was wearing hospital scrubs. No words came to mind; I just offered a quizzical smile and reached for Emma.
“She was in the street,” said the nurse.
My smile melted but still no words formed. Finally I sputtered out a "thank you" and then asked Jack, who was standing behind her, “Were you in the street, too?”
“No,” he said matter-of-factly. “Well, I was, but I was just going to get Emma.”
“Why was Emma in the street?” None of it made sense and the nice woman was still calmly standing there. Standing. Not judging, not lecturing, not anything. I thanked her and thanked her. She smiled and drove off to work. Or wherever it is that guardian angels go.
The trembling and tears didn’t come for another 10 minutes. Then I just held Emma and cried, rocked and cried. Hugged Jack and cried.
God be with the mothers, the parents, whose children die today.
What could replace a child? What can atone for that loss? Christians have an answer to that. And most days I believe it. Would I still, had my doorbell brought other news?
On this day I thanked God for second chances, for nurse Jessica, for the empty street. Thank you for one more glorious, frustrating, loud, normal day. Thank you, God.
Thank you for what didn’t happen.