We read about how a couple of days ago the lovely actress Natasha Richardson was taking private ski lessons on the bunny hill in Montreal when she took a tumble. The 45-year-old actress, was married to Liam Neeson, was enjoying a holiday with her two young sons. After the fall and being seen by the ski patrol, she said she was fine and returned on her own to her room.
Complaining later of a bad headache they sent her to the hospital, and things rapidly went downhill from there. Announcements came out that she had suffered from “Talk and Die Syndrome” where a person suffers bleeding around the brain even without showing external symptoms. Three days later her family issued the sad news that she was taken off life support and had passed away.
So fast. One minute she was skiing, enjoying life, and the next she was gone forever. If that isn’t a wake-up call to all of us that our lives are precious, fragile, and a gift, then I don’t know what is. Tragedies can occur to anyone at any time, regardless of how rich, beautiful or successful we are. There is no right or wrong or fairness here. Death is indiscriminate in who it takes. I am often reminded of the narrator in the story “The Book Thief” – Death, who is weary collecting the souls during WWII and how tired he is of collecting them.
Ever since my son was born, I think death is lurking. Weary & waiting. I know that this sounds morbid, but it’s not because I am fearful all the time, but because I know that at any minute, any second, something can happen. I feel it when I buckle him into his car seat and other drivers pass me going 90mph on the freeway. I think about when he plays with toys and wonder what products are in the materials that can hurt him or what piece may break off and choke him. Will I be there to save him? Will anyone? I can’t watch him 24 hours a day. Part of “LIFE” is out of my control and I have to trust that a greater presence than my fatherly worry can protect him.
I’m sure this constant worrying is nothing new to first time parents. These are on top of the worries about whether I can be a good father and provide for my family. These are the accidents beyond my control – the other driver, the plane crashes, the fires, floods, tornadoes…. I put extra stress in an already stressful world upon my body wondering about what MIGHT happen. I know rationally that statistics are on my side and that the chances of my son growing up to see his old man in a nursing home are with me, but that common sense does little to fly in the face of seeing a gorgeous mother of two take a tumble and is suddenly gone. Or reading the news about lives cut short in car accidents, muggings gone wrong, bombs dropped on civilian houses in foreign countries. The list of ways to die is endless. Yet rational thought has nothing upon the love I feel for my son and my wanting him to be grow old and me being around long enough to see that happen.
When my son had a viral infection that landed him in the hospital I found myself on my knees, praying to someone to listen to my pleas. I knew they were lonely calls into a void but I would have given my own life for my son’s at that moment. When he came home, healthy as a horse, I relaxed a little. I realized too that I could stifle my son if I lived in a fearful world. If I reacted to life thinking that Danger lurked around every corner, that every stranger was dangerous, that streets were filled with ways to be hurt and even die, that the easiest thing would be board up our house with mud and tinfoil and live in isolation.
When I hear about innocuous accidents like this one taking a life, a young mother!, I grow fearful again. But I also realize that my son needs to grow, experience and live life on his own terms. There will be accidents. Hopefully he will live through them. There will always be bad people in the world. There will always be ways to be harmed.
So when my son builds a fort in the living room and climbs to the ceiling on a precious pile of cushions, or comes home with his face smeared from eating mud pies, or wants to be pushed “higher Daddy higher” on his swing, I bite my tongue and smile, and watch, hovering just out of site, just in case, but knowing that much of it is out of my hands.
Life is to be lived, to be experienced. Life is scary. Life is unfair. Life can be taken away in the blink of an eye – an instant in time that forever changes you.
But Life is also to be enjoyed. I don’t think my son would enjoy growing up in a dark “safe” room, fearful of the world. The best I can do is give him tools to make it on his own, and knowing that my love for him is strong and never ending, no matter if I’m here on this earth or not. And I will also make sure that my musings to him are recorded just in case I too take a tumble on the bunny hill and suddenly they find my family having to make the heart wrenching decision as Natasha’s family faced the unthinkable.
Live, my friends. Live life, love life, record your life for everyone. I don’t care if you do it on a piece of paper, here, or wherever, but do it. I shall think about Natasha and wonder what she would write to her sons from heaven if she knew that she was given just one more day to tell them all the things she wants to.