An onrushing car

When Susie and I sought to adopt, the agency required us to go to several training sessions for new parents. The content focused on basic skills that everyone should know. We learned how to resuscitate an infant, how to remove food from a choking baby’s mouth, even how to change diapers. Some of it was laughably redundant with common sense.

During one of those sessions, we listened to the words of a mother who had adopted her son about two years ago. She was playing an important role in encouraging us. Many parents carry a lot of fear and self-doubt into adoption, having been conditions by other setbacks. It does not help when foreign countries put up a warren of regulations.

“There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my baby,” she said to us. “I know you will be like me. It takes time, but I know I would jump in front of an onrushing car to save him. I know it more than I know anything else.”

“Uh,” I thought, “I’ll wait to see that!” I really did not feel that way.

You have to realize that at the time, I had never met John. Any parent who hears this would have to do a doubletake. But, remember, I was not a parent. I had not yet fallen for his bravado, his endless chatter and his earnest goodness.

Think about what she is saying. This is not just any test of parental duty. It is about the depth of parental love. She is talking about a split second reaction. She is talking about maybe dying for your child. Maybe dying for a cause that might not even save anyone. See the danger, step out and stop it, damn the risks. It is an attitude that says, ‘Any cost is worth my child.’ It is why no one believed Susan Smith.

I heard what that parent said in Greensboro at the adoption agency. I did not really believe it. That is what she was saying, and on that day in the late fall of 2003. I just was not feeling it. What I thought was that, yes, there was a lot I would do, but dying for an uncertain result? I doubted that she would do it, like the way I doubt it when people tell you that they loved the place setting or that they will call more often.

I am glad to say that time has given me some new perspective. I think my children have taught me a lot. This is one of those things.

This morning, I woke up late. It was almost eight. The sun was out. The day was starting. It was time to ‘get with the program!’ But I couldn’t get going, because it was too special. As I awakened, I realized that there were four of us in our bed. John, myself, Rosie, Susie. Its a king size bed now, but with Rosie sprawled out perpendicular to the rest of us, there’s not a lot of room. I guess she does that so that she can simultaneosly keep me at a distance from Susie.

I love these kind of mornings. Maybe it goes back to my own childhood. When I was John’s age, I remember the radiant heat from my parent’s soft sheets. More radiant than anything. More radiant than even the furnace vent at the landing of our home. In those memories, my dad is always grumbling as he gets up on the other side of the bed. My mom would stroke my earlobes. So now, I pass on that love. And it radiates back, warmly.

My brother jumped into the shore line of a lake in Missouri, wanting to save my son, who had fallen from a dock to the water. It was maybe 18 inches deep. John had on a life jacket. He was ok. But Tyler felt that fear, and he didn’t doubt what he had to do. It was the feeling that John was in danger.

I would jump in front of that car. More and more, I realize the smallness of my life, the insignificance of any of my particular accomplishments. When I am gone, some things will find new life and a lot of things will just slip away. My children will stay. My career, will that really create a legacy? No, I don’t think so.

But now I have another thought about that onrushing car. I feel the pull that send to jam your shoulder into the corner of those headlights. Anything that gives them the chance to survive. But what if a big hurt was rushing on to your child, and you could do nothing to stop him from being hit? No matter how much you wanted to? What then? What would it feel like to have that mission embedded in your spirit, and be unable to respond?

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