Whenever tragedy hits the news I wonder – could that have happened to me?
Last summer in Connecticut a man was struck by lightning when he took shelter in a beach pavilion. He thought he would be safe; he didn’t realize a roof alone wouldn’t protect him. I’m not sure I would have known that either. I might have done the same thing. That could have been me.
That thought crossed my mind when the little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Many people accused the mother of being neglectful or unfit. But I remember too well what it was like trying to keep track of our three children under the age of four. Although I would jokingly say that their guardian angels worked overtime, there were many close calls and many occasions when events could have turned tragic.
There was the time at Sesame Place, a wonderful theme park outside of Philadelphia. One moment we were enjoying the antics of Elmo; in the next breath, my 3-year-old daughter disappeared. I frantically looked between the legs of strangers, under bushes, and behind rides. She was nowhere to be found. We ran to the “Lost Child” center and there she was – grinning and laughing at the sight of her mother escalating from fear to anger to joy in a second’s time. Kids move fast. They slip away. They don’t think about consequences. When I heard about the boy at the zoo, I thought – that could have been me.
Or the toddler who was attacked by the alligator at Disney World. Would I have known that “no swimming” meant not even wading up to a toddler’s knees? Would I have realized that danger lurked at the “happiest place on earth?” Would I have resisted a squirmy, perhaps fussy two-year-old on a hot, humid night or would I have said, “yes, let’s cool off our toes in this lovely lake?” That could have been me.
I am that mother
- Who put a Band-Aid on her daughter’s elbow, not realizing that her arm was broken.
- Who allowed her son to careen down a hill on his bike, not imagining that he would plow down his siblings like a bowling ball barreling down the alley.
- Who didn’t listen to her son the 15th time he reported seeing a bear while camping at a national park. “Just go and play so I can get supper together,” was my reply when, just like Peter and the Wolf, that time would lead to an almost too-close encounter.
Or what about my own antics from my distant youth?
- Sleeping on a roof top in Athens, Greece?
- Selling my blood in Italy to earn money for an unplanned boat ride?
- Accepting a ride from a stranger to chase after friends on a late night in a strange place?
Those incidents (and many more) could have ended badly. There could have been a news story detailing an accident or abduction or assault. That could have been me.
We are so quick to judge when we hear tragic news stories. Instead of jumping on the condemnation express, perhaps we could listen with grace-filled ears and then wonder – could that have been me? Haven’t there been times when it was only sheer luck and not superior knowledge or skill that kept me safe that day?
It’s more than just placing ourselves in another’s shoes. It’s realizing that on this very human journey, we make mistakes. Events occur that we didn’t plan or anticipate. Accidents happen. Our judgment is not always flawless. And in a moment, lives can change forever.
It could have been me. This time, it wasn’t. So let me hold in prayer those who are suffering today.