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16 November 2010

Too Soon

I woke up this morning while it was still dark.  I lay in bed for a while, willing the fleeting muse of sleep to return but, when it didn't, I sat up.   I don't keep a clock near my bed and, since I was thirsty, I got up and wandered downstairs to see what time it was and to sit on the couch while sipping on a glass of ice water.

My husband's computer was open and, wanting company in my sleeplessness, I woke it from its peaceful slumber by deftly touching the mousepad as I passed.  It grunted that electronic grunt of MacBooks lurching out of hibernation but brightened considerably in the next few moments and presented my husband's Facebook page for my perusal.

I scrolled through the updates of his Facebook connections, logged out, then logged into my Facebook account.

And what I saw there guaranteed that I would not sleep again easily.

So let me back up.

When my son was two years old we enrolled him in a Parent's Day Out program two days a week.  His classroom was supervised by a stern hispanic woman named Helen who strenuously discouraged any whiff of mollycoddling and lectured me numerous times on the ridiculousness of my insistence that I pick my son up at noon and take him home for his afternoon nap.

Then one day another parent was there at noon to pick up his son, a new kid in class.  We chatted a bit and I warned this dad that Helen would shake her finger at him for not allowing his child to stay with the other kids until late afternoon.  He smiled and revealed that he'd already been on the receiving end of the lecture.  We laughed then I asked what his son's name was.  He told me.  Same name as my son.  We smiled again.  Then we discovered that we both had the same last initial, which would certainly confuse things as they tried to label clothing and art work.  We laughed  again and predicted that Helen would insist that one of us change our last names or the name of our child.

Helen didn't, of course, though she probably wanted to.  And, in the meantime, we had formed a cursory acquaintance with this family;  I knew the mother slightly, I found out later, through music circles and we would always chat in passing about the difficulties and joys of child rearing.

Then we went our separate ways to different preschool choices.  I would think of this family once in a while when I told Helen stories, but their child, who shared a name with mine, was a part of my past.  I never ran into either the mom or the dad and they faded to the back of my mind.

Until about a year ago when I found out their son had leukemia.  I felt the wind leave my lungs as a mutual acquaintance told me that this six year old kid was fighting the fight of his life.  I shook my head in disbelief but then defaulted to "He's young, he's strong, he'll beat it."

And the periodic updates I got through mutual friends proved me right.  For a while.

Then this weekend, a mutual friend told me the family had signed a DNR.

And then this morning, another mutual friend posted on Facebook that this young seven year-old had lost his brave fight.

I sat devastated.  My first instinct was to try to DO something, though I knew not what.  My second instinct was to feel guilty that I had not paid more attention, been more help, done something more while he was sick.  Though, again, I knew not what.  What could I have done?  I am basically a stranger to this family.

But I feel a kinship.  A connection.  Because their son could be my son.

They shared a name.

They were the same age.

It could have been us.

And why wasn't it us?  Why did my family roll the dice with more luck than his family?  How was he chosen for suffering while my son wiles away his days, blissfully unaware of sorrow, pain and personal tragedy?

I am lost today.  I want to apologize for having a healthy child and at the same time I want to shout on the rooftops about how amazingly lucky I am.  I want to hug my kid hard and impress upon him how favored and fortunate we are.  I want to bellow importantly at everyone I see to tell them that it is paramount that they take time to appreciate those closest to them.  And I want this young boy's family to somehow find peace.

My husband and I are relative secularists when it comes to ideas of the afterlife;  neither of us buy into the Swedenborg idea of heaven as a more glorious suburb of one's present life but we don't really have a replacement myth, either, so our stock phrase when someone dies is, "Well, they had a good run."  When I told my husband about this lost child this morning, he said, "Seven years is not a good run."

Damn straight it's not.

And though it is selfish and self-centered to realize,  the tragedy of this family has served to embed my vast fortune into the depths of my psyche.  I am lucky.  I may not be lucky forever, but I am lucky right now and damn if I'm not going to spend the rest of the day, the rest of my life, appreciating it.

And then, in the midst of all these emotions, my sister-in-law called to tell me she was in labor.  One life begins.  Another ends.

But too soon.  Too damned soon.