Innocence and an accident scene

Tonight, on the way home from dinner at my parents’ house, we witnessed an accident. We were approaching an intersection, and in the opposite direction a motorcycle was waiting to turn left. I’m not sure exactly what happened; there was the sound of impact, the screech of metal on metal, the grinding of metal on asphalt. I saw the motorcycle’s headlight veer off to the right, sparks flying, as a car pulled over and stopped on the opposite side of the road. It was fast. The road ahead of us glittered with glass crushed to powder.

All traffic stopped. Within seconds, the driver of the car that hit the motorcycle was out of his car and running towards the intersection. Many others were out of their cars too, cell phones out. A woman wearing a bicycle helmet stood at the cross street, making sure no one came through.

In our car, I turned the lullaby cd down. Monkey was still asleep. Bean began to ask questions. What was that sound? Why was everybody stopped? What was that dust on the road? I said a silent prayer for the motorcyclist, and a selfish prayer of thanks that there was a car blocking our view. I wondered if my husband, a second-year firefighter doing his last training shift in the 9-1-1 dispatch centre tonight, had been on the phone with anyone here.

The motorcyclist had not gotten up. A police car arrived, then an ambulance, then another police car. I saw the driver of the car that hit the motorcycle return to his vehicle, with a passenger I hadn’t noticed before. The driver side door made metallic popping sounds as it opened. The driver lowered his head into his passenger’s lap and she bent over him, stroking his back and head. I could feel that sinking, sick, heavy feeling alongside him – the crushing guilt and desperate longing to just take it back, and the knowledge that you can’t.

The ambulance left the scene and police officers began directing traffic. As we took a longer route home, Bean told his version of events.

“That motorcycle was parked on the road. It fell down. The ambulance and police car came with their sirens so loud! They helped the people. I think a tow truck will come and take all the cars away. People gotta be careful.”

Our innocent children live in a magical world where everything is okay in the end. An accident happens, the heroes with trucks and sirens clean it up and fix everything, and everyone lives. No one is damaged, no one’s life course is permanently altered.

I agreed with Bean, assuring him that everything would be okay, knowing that it very likely wasn’t. That some family might receive life-changing news tonight. And I could not stop the thoughts that filled my mind about the inevitable day when tragedy will strike our family, and I will have to explain to my kids that everything is not okay. It hit me suddenly that my dad had been on his motorcycle, on that very same road, in the very same direction, less than an hour before this accident happened. What if it was Bean’s beloved Grandpa in that ambulance, his collector bike broken to pieces and glittering dust on the road?

Parenthood expands our hearts, making room for an abundance of love. But with love comes fear: we have more to lose. And it isn’t just the loss of my kids that I fear. My love for my parents and family and friends is amplified by the experience of my kids’ love for them.

I’m reminded of the vulnerability in parenting demonstrated by this quote: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” (Elizabeth Stone). My kids’ heartbreak will be my own. Any future loss we experience as a family will be multi-faceted: loss as I experience it, and as my kids experience it, both sides inextricably linked.

I’m not sure what the lesson in this is, or even if there is one. Times like tonight remind me of how fragile and fleeting life is, and how quickly it can end or be irrevocably changed. Some days it feels as though the fear of loss could paralyze me. But that’s no way to live. So instead, I’ll hold tightly to the ones I love and make the most of every moment. And I’ll ask my dad to consider not riding in the dark anymore.