As I sit down to write it has only been twenty-four hours since it happened. My daughter was hit by a drunk driver. And I was unavailable. These two facts knotted together as one horror and struck me like a lightning bolt. Before I gave myself the moments needed to calmly be present, to think about and process my actual reality, I fell back into another time when I worried about her safety every minute of every day because she was the only child I had left.
I was blithely unaware, enjoying time with friends without my phone close, so I didn’t even hear her first call. It was about an hour later before we finally connected and I heard her say those words: “I was hit by a drunk driver.” My world tipped, my voice changed and only questions flew out of my mouth. One of the friends I was with last evening had also lost a child years earlier; that fact, his awareness, the obvious alarm in my voice, and some of my years-old guilt, charged the atmosphere with a kind of hyper-aware, fearful vigilance. He and I looked at each other, said very few words but immediately understood what each was thinking: when you’ve lost one, your deepest terror is losing another. As my girl and I talked I was able to hear the only words that mattered to me: “I’m ok.”
Laurence Gonzales in Surviving Survival, writes “Lives are written in the indelible ink of memory. And only by writing over these memories in bolder script can we ever hope to tame them.” My son, Matthew, died far away from me, at a time and place where I was unavailable. That reality has been written in indelible ink. Though I’ve been tracing over that memory with my own handwriting, sometimes in softer, forgiving script and sometimes in bolder lines, it will always live on the surface of my heart. Those first years, when Matt’s death was fresh to us all, my daughter paid the price; she was never out of my mind. The phone rang and my heart always began its relentless hammering as it sank into the depths of worst-case scenarios. Whether or not she was aware of it, I checked on her way too often - as if my life depended on it . . . and I suppose it did. Thankfully, the worst never came calling. In time, I let us both live a more normal life, but the truth is that Matt’s life will always be inextricably tied to his sister’s through deeply etched memories . . . as will his death.
I wasn’t at the accident where my daughter’s car was slammed into so hard that it was pushed from its southbound lane into landing somehow across both lanes headed in a different direction. But Dave was.
Dave, an angel wrapped in a perfect stranger's clothing, was available for my daughter. His kindness, competency and selflessness in the very midst of possible tragedy identifies him as a visit from the divine. And though I’ve never seen nor met him, he is the face, the embodiment, of Grace in my life.
Because you who know and read me realize I can no longer live through a life-altering experience without noting what I’ve learned or recalled, here comes what I know to be true:
1. life, as we experience it, is a fragile proposition: it alters without our permission;
2. there is nothing . . . NOTHING! we can do about that;
3. we owe it to ourselves and those we love to be always present and practice living
wholeheartedly and lovingly;
4. being present does not mean always being physically available;
5. being present means living fully in whatever moment you find yourself;
6. guilt is a function of fear and, when you let it, will always take you down a path away
7. Grace is a function of unconditional love, housed in our hearts;
8. Grace is always available, even at the worst of times; and
9. this time Grace is named Dave.
To all the Dave’s in my life: I can never adequately thank you for the kindness and love you unselfishly give to those I love, but I promise to pay it forward and be Grace in the lives of others.