Forty-eight hours ago, some dear friends of ours in Nashville were living the American dream. Today, they're desperate to wake up from one of every parent's worst nightmares. Late Sunday afternoon, the dad backed over his 3-year-old son with a riding mower. Most of the little boy's right foot is now gone. Best case scenario at this point is to save the rest of the leg from the heel up. The left leg was badly butchered, but it appears skin grafting will allow doctors to keep that entire limb intact.
Just curious. What's your initial reaction? Horror? Sadness? Anger? All are justified, I'm sure, but compare your feelings with the response of the boy's 7-year-old sister, who was standing next to him when it all happened but didn't know the severity of the injury.
Told Monday that her brother had lost his right foot and maybe more, she replied, "Is he going to be okay?" When told the situation was not life-threatening, she smiled and said, "Good," and that was that.
Big sis wasn't being cavalier or coarse. It's just that she got the answer she was hoping for when she asked the only question that really mattered to her: "Is my brother going to live?"
"Unless you become like a little child..."
My reaction to the news was much different because I thought other things did matter. And I certainly had more than one question...
Will he be able to function? What will it look like? Can he ever play soccer, the sport his dad coaches? Will he ever walk at all? Across the stage at graduation? Down the aisle at his wedding? Will the dad think it's his fault? How can he ever mow the lawn again? Will the mom wonder why she wasn't there to protect her son? When they quit praying for healing, what will they say to God next? And where exactly was He during this ordeal anyway? If He kept Abraham's blade from incising Isaac, how hard would it have been to stop the blade of my buddy's mower?
However legitimate or understandable my questions may be, each is constructed on a common and dangerous denominator: expectation. I didn't think I needed a refresher course in how fleeting all of this is. Family. Health. Wealth. Blood counts. Bank accounts. Today. Tomorrow.
Apparently I did. That little girl's reaction to what befell her brother brought me back. He's going to be okay. What he won't be is what we all prayed he would be. (Try again.) What we hoped he would be. (No.) What we figured he would be. (Keep going.) What we took for granted he would be? (One more time.) What we thoughtlessly assumed he would be because having perfectly healthy children is our God-given right as parents in 21st century America? (Better.)
This, by the way, is not a discussion topic for these friends of ours. Certainly not now. This is awful, no matter how holy the perspective. Their job is to grieve and pray and thank God and pray and mourn and pray and wrestle and pray and trust and pray. And keep praying.
My job, along with the praying, is to re-read the warranty. The real warranty. Not the American Standard Version. What's promised continues to be delivered by the manufacturer in spades. What's not in there continues to conflict with my conception of what life abundantly really is. Maybe it depends on what my definition of is is. And maybe I need to remember the words of Moses in Psalm 90, eerily apropos in this case: "...people are like new grass of the morning - though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered."
I still wish what happened to our friends hadn't happened. And I still hope my children stay healthy. But most of all, I still believe that little boy's sister got it right. One of these days maybe I will, too.
(NOTE: Amazingly, this article on ESPN.com was posted yesterday. I cried.)