I ran by the grocery store yesterday to get a few things for Memorial Day. We’re having a pretty quiet day, but my sister takes our boys to the cemetery for the 21-gun salute every year, and we have breakfast when they come back. I hadn’t planned a thing, so I was picking up last-minute supplies.
On my way home, I stopped in what passes for a traffic jam in Wayne County. There were blue and red flashing lights up ahead, stopping the drivers both ways. I peered around the line of cars and saw the cops were directing another emergency truck onto a path that runs alongside the creek I’d be crossing over shortly. The truck was pulling a trailer, and the taste in my mouth turned bitter when I read the lettering on the side. It was a water rescue team. I knew there’d be a headline, and I knew I wouldn’t like it.
I didn’t. I don’t. As I write this, there is a mother who doesn’t know where her 13-year-old boy is. The teams are still searching, but the headline has changed from “missing” to “believed drowned.” I want this to be a mistake. I want the paper and the TV station to have to issue apologies for their rush to judgment. But the hours tick by, and the headline hasn’t updated.
I don’t know this boy or his family. Before the news released a name, I got texts from friends, who were texting other friends. I told someone I’d driven by and people wanted to know where exactly. By their brother’s house? Their friend’s? Who? Do you know who? Does anyone know? We haven’t invented synthetically scented internet messaging yet, but every message bore the smell of fear.
And then, no, it’s not someone you know. The half-second of overwhelming relief is followed by guilt. Because it’s not your son, your cousin, your nephew, but it’s someone else’s. Someone you don’t know is bearing the unbearable, and how dare you feel relief that this time, it’s not you?
Knowing the name does nothing about the terror. We lay in bed last night, having tucked our children in bed with stories and prayers and kisses. Our children who were safe and drowsy and squabbling about pajama options. We were almost asleep, but not quite, and the tears running into my ears were annoying me. I reached for a tissue and said, “I can’t stand it. There are just so many ways for them to die.”
He was just swimming with his friends, this boy. It was just Sunday afternoon, on a holiday weekend, and he was swimming in a rushing creek with his friends, and nobody knew when they got up that morning that nothing would ever be the same.
I can see my family out the window. Paul is showing Levi something with the ATV and the fencing. Elias is sitting in the shade, probably mad about something. He’s had a pretty good mad on lately.
I texted a friend last night that I want to lock my boys in the basement. Not in a creepy start-of-a-Law-and-Order-episode way. I want to keep them safe. And if I locked them in the basement and didn’t let them go near the ATV or the cows or the pool or other people who might have germs and bad intentions, I’d feel safer.
It’s tempting. It’s a little tempting most days. Today, it’s almost overwhelming. But when I am tempted to wrap them in bubble and store them in a cupboard, I think, “… and then?” My primary responsibility isn’t to keep them safe. It’s to release them. A little bit at a time, if the universe is kind. But one way or another, my children will leave me. My dearest hope is that when they do, it is as young adults who know how to live in the world and to love other people well. That they leave on their own two feet to live the amazing life they can see before them. They won’t learn any of the things they need to know if they’re locked in the basement, safe.
So this is the price we pay for getting to love them. Constant low-level worry. Occasional abject terror. The possibility that the nightmare will become reality.
I checked the headline. It hasn’t changed. This mother, this family is constantly on my mind.
I grieve with you. I fear with you. And I also know that I have no earthly idea what you are bearing. And so all I have for you is this: I see you. I am sorry.