The other day, I was driving my kids home from school when a child, who had been riding his bicycle on the adjacent sidewalk, suddenly veered, bumping down over the curb and cutting directly in front of my car. I slammed the brakes, jolting the kids and the dog, and causing the long line of cars behind me to brake hard, too. "Hey," my son said. "That's Jack [not his real name]. He should be more careful." The accident that didn't occur would have been fatal; the boy was not wearing a helmet, and nothing would have saved him from the 25-mile-an-hour impact of my car. Because I missed him, though, life went on as usual; we drove home, had some cookies, dug into our homework, and talked about other things. Jack lived on. No one noticed, and his parents probably have no idea that anything out of the ordinary had happened.
I flew home to New Jersey from Durham, North Carolina, on Sunday night in a torrential rainstorm. The plane pitched and rolled through the clouds. As I may have mentioned before in this space, I am terrified of flying even under the most favorable of conditions, and I assure you that Sunday night's rainstorm did not constitute favorable conditions. I clung to my husband's arm for almost two hours, trying to breathe deeply and stay calm. My husband, the original Coward Whisperer, talked softly the entire way, reminding me over and over again that clouds were just clouds, that an accident was unlikely, and that I would soon be safe and sound in my own bed.
Which, of course, I was.
I sign permission slips on a regular basis. My kids go on class trips and attend events and perform in concerts all the time. I routinely check off the little box indicating that they have no health problems of which the chaperones should be aware, and I represent that I will not sue the school district if something unforeseen and awful happens. Nothing ever has, so I don't worry about it too much. Except that I paused the other day signing a permission slip for one of my daughters to go to the prom next month. I am nervous about this particular event for reasons that I can't really articulate. It is being held in the very spot where my husband and I celebrated our wedding nearly twenty-one years ago. The children will travel by limousine, and I have no reason to believe they will not be completely safe. Still, I worry.
Someone famous once said that worrying will never add a day to a man's life. I know that's true, of course, but I do it anyway. (On the plane on Sunday night, I kept telling myself over and over that freaking out wasn't going to calm the weather or change the odds of safe arrival in any way. Still, my husband has lasting fingernail marks in his arm.) Weird things happen all the time; I don't need to regale you with tales of lives taken tragically early in freak accidents or by weird diseases. I am sure you know all those stories already. I wish I knew why they happen to some people and not to others. I wish I knew why my parents are alive and healthy, but some of my friends' parents are not. I wish I knew why I am alive and well and sailing through my forties, while my childhood friend's widower and children are coping without her. I have three very close friends who were unexpectedly widowed in their late thirties. My husband is fine. I don't understand.
Yesterday, at the supermarket, the cashier asked me whether I'd like to add a dollar to my total to help fund children's cancer research. I thought about my beautiful oldest daughter, on the brink of getting her driver's license. I thought of my talented middle daughter, who has come so far after a bumpy childhood and has just gotten the top braces off her teeth. I thought about my redheaded son, who picked up a guitar yesterday for the first time ever and started strumming and singing an Alison Krauss gospel song (with no prior instruction whatsoever). I thought about how tight money has been lately, and how hard my husband has been working.
Then I agreed to contribute an extra dollar. It seemed like the right thing to do.