Last weekend I learned about a tragedy that had befallen a certain family. I don't know this family personally although I've heard the mother speak at an event once and I follow her on Instagram. I have thought about this woman every day since hearing about what happened and my heart breaks for her. And this tragedy has got me thinking why... why do horrible things happen to some people? And why are others spared?
The reason I've been thinking so much about this is because something similar almost happened to me nearly 20 years ago. Only it didn't. And I can't help thinking, Why was my child spared? How different would my life be now if what happened to this woman had happened to me? And every time I allow my mind to wander down this path, my heart breaks from both sadness and gratitude. Sadness for those who have lost a child and gratitude that my child was spared. I think most people who have children, when learning of another parents loss, feel similarly. We love our children so fiercely yet we know that they live outside of our control, however much we wish to believe otherwise.
My last year of teaching kindergarten a student at our school drowned at a birthday party. She held on for a few days afterwards and we, as a school community, lived each moment suspended both in sorrow and in hope. After she passed it was like a dark cloud had cast itself over us all. Students, parents and staff alike were in stunned disbelief. How could this happen? Why did this happen? One thing I found interesting is how different people processed the tragedy. I remember one parent in particular who said to me at the little girl's memorial something like, "I always watch my son like a hawk whenever he is swimming. I don't allow him to go to birthday parties at swim clubs unless I'm there watching."
At first I thought this was terribly unkind of this woman. It was almost like she was blaming the parents for what happened. But then I realized that it's something that people do to make themselves feel better. To convince themselves that what happened to someone else won't happen to them. But the truth is that we can be the best parents in the world and sometimes horrible things still happen. Better to see each moment as a gift than to pretend that you can cheat fate. Not one second is promised.
Nearly 20 years ago my youngest daughter almost drowned. If I hadn't happened to hear her tiny, almost silent cry and turned to see her little head barely above water, she quite well could have. If the wind had been a little louder or blowing in the opposite direction; if someone had been playing loud music on the beach that day; if, if, if... And I can only thank God for sparing her life. But that incident connects me on some level to the ones who weren't so fortunate. And every time I hear of someone who loses a child in that way I can't help but think, why?
I called my daughter after I heard about what happened to that family. I told her it made me think of what could have happened to her. She said, "Mom, that was almost 20 years ago. You need to let it go." But I can't let it go because I realize how blessed I am that my daughter grew up. I'm blessed to be able to call her on the phone, or have lunch with her or send her care packages. And my heart is filled with unending gratitude for those simple things because I know that, if that one moment 20 years ago had turned out differently, I would give everything I own; trade every moment of my own life, just to be able to have one more day with her.
There is no use asking why. We will never know that answer. A better question to ask is how... how will you spend whatever time you have left in this world with the people you love? Better yet, don't ask. Just do.