It’s the kind of phone call no parent wants to receive. The one that begins with your child sobbing on the other end.
No matter what’s happening at that moment, life stops. If you’re anything like me, every conceivable (and many down right impossible) situations run through your head.
Last week I got one such phone call. Here’s how it played out:
Me: Hey Baby Girl, I was just thinking about you.
Alexzandra: (sobbing hysterically) Me? Why?
Me: Oh my god, are you alright?
Alexzandra: I need a minute. Let me call you right back (through more sobs).
The line went dead. As much as I tried not to imagine the most horrible scenario, I’m a writer. My mind went there. My daughter is an avid cyclist ~ I tried not to picture what could’ve happened to her. She lives in a sketchy neighborhood ~ I didn’t want to know if she’d been robbed, mugged, beaten up. She’s my baby and I was hundreds of miles away from her.
In those few precious seconds when she left me in silence to freak out, I mentally ran through my calendar. I could be on a plane in an hour if there was a flight. You know how it goes, you try to keep calm and carry on while simultaneously rearranging your life to take care of your baby.
When she called back and started to explain what happened, I cut her off and asked if she was okay. There was surprise in her voice as if I was a little loopy for worrying about her at a time like this. Oh, children, you have so much to learn about parenting. Yes I worry about you. You will be fifty years old and I will still call to make sure you’re okay.
Once I’d established that my daughter was fine, she told me that she’d been riding her bike down a mountain when she saw a truck, the big kind with trailers attached to the back, lose control and jack knife before flipping over. A few minutes later paramedics arrived and put the driver in a body bag.
My daughter watched someone die.
It was one of the few times in my life when I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry” seemed trite, but it was all I had. I wished I could erase the image from her mind, but there was, underneath the horror of what she witnessed, something good.
My daughter didn’t just shrug her shoulders and ride away. She couldn’t because the death of that stranger affected her at a core level. Like an earthquake far out in the ocean, the effects of that day may lie under the surface, but there will be long lasting ripples of change within my daughter. It made her view life a little differently. She saw in that man’s death her own mortality. When you’re twenty-one you think you’re invincible. She’s questioning that a little bit.
As much as I wish that accident didn’t happen ~ any senseless death is a tragedy in my mind ~ I can’t help but be proud of my daughter. Her visceral reaction was to care. In a world that is too fast and sometimes devoid of humanity, Alexzandra showed compassion for someone she’d never met. What an amazing young woman she is.