Sunday, April 1, 2012

What If . . .

What if a gunman burst into your church meeting and ordered everyone to put their hands up? What if your daughter disappeared on her way to school? What if your car plunged into the lake with you and your five children strapped in their seats? What if your house caught on fire? What if your baby passed away in her sleep? What if some guy jumped you in a dark parking lot? What if your husband was in a serious car accident? What if an intruder broke into your house in the middle of the night?

What would you do?

Or, do you just shut these thoughts down before they even start?

I've often wondered why it is that people tend to do that. It's almost like we feel that if we even entertain that train of thought, we're daring the universe to bring our fear to life. Which is ridiculous because thinking about something doesn't make it more likely to happen. Most of the time. The scenarios I mentioned are extremely remote possibilities, but possibilities nonetheless. Why not give ourselves a head start, a fighting chance, the shadowy outline of a plan to follow when the world we know crumbles around us?

I hope against hope that no tragedy like this ever strikes my family. But hope is not a strategy.

So when these thoughts come, I let them in. I don't get lost in them, but I let them in. I think about what I would do. Who I would call. Who would be helpful to have around and who wouldn't. How I could navigate my children through a crisis and have them emerge whole. Because I will never allow such a tragedy to define us, to stop our progression, to suck the sweetness from the joyful things in life.

I realize that this might be somewhat unusual, the fact that I allow myself to run through these scenarios. Sometimes they make me cry, but I don't let that stop me from thinking about them. I would rather experience a little sorrow during a mental exercise than a complete breakdown during an actual crisis.

I used to think that it would not be possible to go on with life if I lost a child. But I have encountered evidence lately, that shows me that I was wrong. This blog, Sunshine Promises, is a heart-wrenching story of one truly courageous and faithful mother who lost her littlest son (who happened to be about the same age B is now). Her words bring tears to my eyes, a boundless ache to my heart, and inspiration to my mind.

Because I realize, seemingly more strongly with each passing day, how precious and fleeting and fragile life is. And there are times that I feel terrified that I will lose one of my children. That little B will be called home to heaven before I am ready to let her go. Sometimes I have dreams that a tragedy strikes S and she is taken from us. I have had entire days filled with a sense of foreboding, that something might happen that would shatter our world. I worry that Shaggy will not be able to walk hand in hand with me to our golden years.

I am not paralyzed by these thoughts and fears (except the one about the car plunging into the lake, because even though I have a rough reaction plan, that scenario still makes me panic just a little). I think, in a way, these thoughts are actually helping me gain the ability to push through shock and fear and denial if a crisis were to come my way. They're preparing me to be better equipped to help others during times of hardship. To have the strength to be on the front lines if that is where I am called to be.

If you ever want to read a totally eye-opening book about how most people react to disasters, read The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. I promise, you will never be so content to dismiss all these scenarios again. Most of the time, people simply do nothing. They freeze. And they wait for someone to tell them what to do because they've never thought about what they might need to do during a disaster. And sometimes they die.

But groupthink aside, all these scenarios are helping me to be a better person now. Because as I think about these what if's, I realize how important it is to cherish life as it is now. I am taking the time to create more memories with my children. I am drinking in the beautiful moments that happen on their own. I am less likely to hold on to the not so beautiful ones. Life is more meaningful and more awe-inspiring and more full of joy and just more because I allow myself to think about the possibility that this charmed existence might not last forever.

And I am feeling driven to capture these moments before they slip away. Whether through time or crisis. I felt such relief once I had a copy of the family portraits we had taken last year. Because the dear mother from Sunshine Promises didn't have a family photo of them all together. Now it's too late and that breaks my heart. Photos are such an important part of the way I cherish life. So lately, I've been driven to try to capture and preserve all the little things that make my current life so very meaningful and awe-inspiring and full of joy. Lots of photos and stories and video and awareness. Someday these may be the things that keep me afloat.

Now is my time to plan and prepare and gather. Right now, in the heart of the busy, chaotic, noise filled days. I will not let this time slip away.


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