This weekend's Rapture and Oprah's ascension into tv Heaven has me reflective. Both events make me think of Dr. Phil, which is weird because the only other time I think of him is when I see a picture of Jeffrey Tambor in a suit. Anyway, the Philibuster says we have these defining moments in our lives. Moments that change your perspective in such a way that your life is never the same. The invention of the Snuggie notwithstanding, I can think of one such moment in particular. But if the world is now going to end on October 21st (they re-did some calculations and wouldn't you know it? That old guy is super sorry), I need a couple more by then.
Dream: Have some kick-ass life-defining moments in the next five months.
Goal: Achievable. I'm trying to get outside more and take more risks (the other day I had a mojito!), so something momentous is bound to happen.
Plan: Examine my existing defining moment and determine what I have learned. This is lengthy and not all that funny, so skip ahead, or get comfy, grab a drink (perhaps a mojito!) and settle in.
It happened last spring. Names have been omitted to protect the muddy. I was visiting a Friend at her house, but I must have been early, or she had something to do, or there was a small fire or something, because I volunteered to take Friend's child (we'll call her Child) to a nearby park for a half hour or so. Now I love Child. Not in a way you love tuna fish sandwiches or early seasons of Cheers, but in a really meaningful way. Child is so curious, creative and smart that we connected immediately and could play for hours before she'd get bored with me. This was not the best day for a trip to the park, though. In the midst of spring thaw, it was warmer than it had been, but everything was covered in water, ice, and mud. We arrived at the park through a grassy embankment that was disgusting. We hadn't been out two minutes and we were already filthy. The playground part of the park was equally precarious. In fact, it was covered in water and unfit for play. Child was none too pleased with this arrangement and grew quickly bored with my game: Goose-stepping around the perimeter. After a few muddy rounds of tag and “Don't go over there, it's icy!”, I gave up on our park adventure and insisted we head home. Child protested, but I don't think she was having much fun either, so begrudgingly, we began our journey back to Friend's house.
Worried about scaling the grassy embankment covered in mud, I opted for the quicker and (I assumed) safer route of the asphalt and concrete alleyway which connected the playground to the houses. The alleyway was just as muddy, however, somehow muddier than the grassy area, and Child, fed up with my wet blanket ways, went straight to the muddiest portion of the alleyway to play. Cold, wet, and muddy myself, I would have none of it. My plan was to take Child by the hand, move her to the less muddy side of the alley and walk on home. As I approached her, though, when I was less than a foot away, I became literally stuck in the mud. My feet anchored me to one spot, and Child took no notice and continued playing. That's when she and I realized that she was stuck too.
At this point, those wise aircraft safety instructions about securing your own oxygen mask before helping a child with theirs would have come in handy. Instead, I reasoned, I would lift the small child, place her on clearer asphalt, get myself unstuck, and soldier on. Child was and is not heavy, but her boots were buried under a mound of thick muck so I knew this would entail a good, lift with your legs sort of lift. So I crouched (my feet still stuck), safely grabbed Child, and lifted mightily. She came up way too easily, and I realized I had lifted her out of her boots, which were still stuck. The momentum of my mighty lift and her small frame meant that I had overshot it big time and, with Child in my arms, I started to fall backwards.
I can't emphasize or begin to convey how scary this moment was. I had lifted a child above my six foot frame, my feet were bolted to the ground, and I was now about to fall backwards, onto asphalt and concrete. The lift and the sense of falling happened so quickly in real time, but it was amazing (and cliched) how everything slowed way down in my mind. My most prevalent thought was, of course, “You cannot hurt this child. You must do something now. Above all, the child must not be harmed.” This thought was on top of layers of incrimination and self-hatred, “You fucking moron!” I thought, “What made you think you could ever look after a child! Look at what's happening! Look at what you've done!” Instinctively, (remarkable that instinct would kick in now in spite of my amazing lack of intelligence so far on that day) I remember pulling Child down to hug her frame to my chest and stomach. I remember thinking, “She has to land on the fleshiest part of you. Break her fall with your pizza gut.” At least I can honestly say my concern was not for myself in this moment. I was hoping against everything that I could cushion her impact with my lungs or something so that she might only be shaken up, not injured, and have the presence of mind to fetch an adult while my brains leaked onto the asphalt.
Then it happened. Somehow, against all explanation, my foot was unstuck and I was able to step back, steady myself, and set Child down as I had intended! She was completely unaware than anything had happened, only that her boots were over there somewhere, and I felt the greatest, most palpable sense of relief. Because my feet were stuck, yo! As in absolutely immovable in those moments before the lift. There is no physical explanation as to how my foot would have become suddenly so free as to allow me to regain my balance. I'm not a religious or even very spiritual person, but something inside me believes now that there was some kind of force moving the chess pieces here.
I've told this story to other people, including Friend (Child's mother) who put Child into a bath as soon as she got home and noticed me shaking like a leaf. They've all had similar reactions along the lines of, “Well, kids aren't as fragile as you think they are!” or “Nothing really bad would have happened, you're making too much of this!” But it's one thing that I keep going over and over in my head, one thing I've never been able to turn into a dinner party anecdote. That combination of danger, total panic and relief is one I hope never to experience again, but will surely feel if I have kids of my own someday. I guess I should hope that whomever would be giving those kids to me never reads this.
So what is the lesson? Something contrived about how the sun can't shine every day? About how we should avoid, at all costs, being sticks in the mud? About how we should hold children to our hearts, quite literally, lest we be flung into Heaven backwards?
Oprah stood and talked for an hour today; no guests, no cars, no elongated voooowellllls!!! and the gist of her yakkin' was gratitude. Be grateful for what you have, for what you have experienced, for what you will experience. How lucky am I that my defining moment thusfar has been a spring day with my littlest Friend? For I've never witnessed a true disaster, never seen someone die, never seen a man hit a woman or a parent beat a child. I've never experienced war, never gone to bed hungry, never truly wanted for a single thing in my life. When the world ends, or I take my last breath in it, I hope I will remember how lucky I was to have the Friends and Family that I have, all the love that infinitely grows and expands like thawing ice over the earth, how grateful I was to step back, take a Child by the hand, and soldier on home.