So many thoughts, so little time. I feel like every hour of my life is spoken for, in one way or another, and there’s never time to just sit still and let my random fleeting thoughts spill onto the screen unhindered. My hours are a balancing act between two steady jobs, teaching piano, occasional freelance work, and then the important things…like quality time with my family and the people I love. Then there’s all the stuff I would like to include in my life…like reading all the library books I ambitiously check out each month and then return unread, watching the many shows I’ve recorded on the DVR and eventually end up deleting, and just sitting on the sofa cuddled up next to my love, eating chips and salsa and ice cream. But if I do all that, then where is the time to write my own thoughts…to let my mind create new worlds and people and problems and solutions and stories? Each day seems to me to be a battle between what I must do and what I want to do.
Last Friday morning, Ryan’s employee was late to work. She was late to work…because she died while on her way.
I still feel sick about it.
I know people die all the time, but for some reason, this one’s stuck with me. She was just 19, and she had worked for Ryan for eight months or so. He hired her, he trained her, and that morning, he texted her to remind her of her shift, because she didn’t usually work on Fridays. It was icy, misty, and foggy that day, and there were numerous weather-related accidents around town. And as her family headed to work and school, they passed an accident with a car resembling hers. They stopped, and the officers on the scene said it was a fatal accident and that the body had already been taken away. They called their daughter’s cell, and when they got no answer, they called Ryan to see if she had shown up for work. And horrifically, it turned out that Ryan ended up being on the phone with her dad when he started to piece everything together and realize that his daughter was very likely dead.
The words of the father have haunted Ryan ever since… “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”
Ryan said it was pretty much the worst conversation he’s ever had, being privy to this private, tragic moment in this stranger’s life…the moment when a man realizes his most precious treasure, his child, is gone forever…witnessing the horror of his heart breaking.
At that same exact moment, our most precious treasure was riding a rickety school bus down icy, foggy mountain roads on her way back from Outdoor Lab where she and her class had been trudging through three feet of snow. Like a helicopter mom, for two days I had monitored the weather and road reports, stalked Facebook pages of teachers and chaperones, and finally found a web cam for the YMCA camp where they were staying so I could sit and watch the snow pile up for myself. I’d click “refresh” every 15 minutes, and when the web cam was finally whited out by blizzard conditions or piled up snow (not sure which), I went to bed, trusting she must be safe and cozy in her bunk bed in the same lodge where I had stayed as a girl. It wasn’t the time away that worried me. It was the drive back down the mountain.
So on that same Friday morning, we were so concerned about the drive home that I tried to get ahold of the principal to encourage him to let the kids stay an extra day. It turned out that it was not the principal’s decision, but the public school system’s decision and the Colorado department of transportation’s decision, so I gave up, leaving my child’s life in the hands of the
Of course she was fine. It would be ludicrous to think that her bus would tumble down a snowy ravine. Right? That happens to other people, but not to us.
But while we have our daughter safely home, the other family does not. It can happen to anyone.
After half a day of trying to get a straight answer from the authorities, the girl’s family finally confirmed what they had suspected and feared. Ryan texted me: “She died.” Then, “Have you heard anything from the school about Ryley?” So many emotions at play.
Within hours of his employee’s passing, Ryan had to begin the dutiful task of filling her scheduled shifts with staff to replace her, processing her termination in the system so the family can get her paycheck….all these mundane tasks and paperwork to which her vivacious, youthful life has suddenly been reduced. And the world keeps going, keeps moving. People come into the restaurant expecting to be fed, regardless of whether or not the girl who was scheduled to serve them died that same morning. And Ryan watched as, over the following week, most of his employees seemed to move on. After that first day, the staff wasn’t quite as emotional about it. But while they moved on, that family’s world had completely stopped. Shattered. Every day leading up to that one was full of life and promise for their family…swim meets and band concerts and high school graduation…and suddenly, the momentum stopped. It came to a grinding, sickening halt. Their daughter’s life was gone in an instant, like the mist that lifted when the sun came out later that day.
Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.
The truth is, death can come at any time. As James wrote in the Bible, our lives are like a vapor…a mist…here for a little while and then gone. Our lives can be over, unceremoniously, in a split second.
I’ve been thinking a lot about life this past week. Life and death. Existence and non-existence. And I’ve been contemplating how easily, if certain situations had been different here or there, we may have never existed at all. For instance, my parents met in a college Spanish class….What if one of them had decided to take German instead? The line between existing and not existing seems amazingly thin.
And taking it to a grander scale…What about victims of abortion or the hypothetical descendants of people killed in the Holocaust…souls who were never conceived, but should have been and may have been, had certain details fallen into place? What about all those “vapors” and their thoughts and lives and resulting actions that will never happen? What are we missing out on?
But I’m here. You’re here. Ryan’s here, and Ryley’s here.
So since I’m here, what am I going to do with my limited time… my hours? Do I do what I must, or do I do what I want? Or do I do what’s important? And is there any way to make them all the same thing??
Ryley’s definitely here in our lives, in all of her sweaty, beautiful middle school glory. One minute I think she is the greatest human being ever birthed in the history of mankind, and the next minute I’ve swung to the other side of the pendulum and I cannot wait for her to go to bed. She talks our ears off and quotes movies and TV shows and tells us the plot of every book she’s reading and tells us everything about school except the things we want to know… “Belle? She’s a fraternal twin, and her sister Olivia is in the other class. Actually we have five sets of twins in 6th grade, but only one set is identical. Well, anyway, so Belle, the twin? She…” And on and on it goes.
I wrestle between knowing that it’s my job to teach her manners and squelching her unique personality. I don’t want her to fit into the mold, and yet in some ways, I do. She’s got to learn to be self-aware so she doesn’t become an annoying adult (we all know annoying adults, right??), but I also don’t want to rein her in too far.
At bedtime she complains her stomach hurts and that she needs Tums, and oh no, her eyes hurt…What if I go blind? And then she’s suddenly thirsty. Can I get a drink of water? And sometimes, after all these years, she still crawls in bed between us in the wee hours of the morning, and we wake up to elbows in our ribs and gangly legs draped across ours. And hair. Oh, the hair! Fanned out across our pillows and over our faces and pinned under our shoulders. We beg her to stay in her own bed: “Are you awake when you crawl in with us? Or are you sleep walking?” She doesn’t know. Some of each, perhaps.
But she’s 11, and she’s funny and so full of vibrance and quirky character, and she fills our days with joy. Her life, like all of ours, is just “a vapor,” but she’s a sweet vapor, and we thank God for entrusting her upbringing to us. We cherish each and every moment and pray for wisdom in helping to mold her into the person she’s supposed to be.
Here are some snapshots of life these last few months…
Making meatballs with Daddy:
A tea party in the treehouse:
Planning Ryan’s birthday scavenger hunt (there ended up being 37 clues for 37 years!):
A successful art heist at Puzzah! for Ryan’s birthday:
Birthday dinner at the Buckhorn Exchange:
“Nope. Chuck Testa.”
Dyeing eggs with Aunt Coleen:
Preparing for Outdoor Lab:
Making deviled eggs with Daddy:
Mythbusters Live with Daddy:
Off to Outdoor Lab:
Back from Outdoor Lab:
Makin’ out with her dog tonight after we got home from church:
Gosh, I hope she washed her face before she went to bed. I don’t want her smelling like Juliet spit when she crawls in with us at 5 a.m.! ;-)