As a parent I harp on safety so much that sometimes my children refer to their dad as the “safety officer.” From an early age, I’ve taught them fire prevention, drug prevention, stranger awareness, and pedestrian safety.
At school they learn contraception, rape prevention and AIDS awareness.
At work our employers host Prevention Conventions. We wear hats, helmets and seatbelts. We take lifesaving classes in smoking cessation, self-defense, defensive driving, CPR, and stress management.
But no matter what I do, I still understand the possibility that one night my child could easily wind up in the emergency room much the way a three year old boy entered our emergency room with his mother.
Mom had done everything to make sure her son’s world was safe. She had taken him on a play date to a beautifully swept tennis court in an exclusive metropolitan suburb. The court was locked, supervised, gated, cleaned and staffed by background-checked employees.
“Can I take off my shoes, Mommy?”
“Sure,” she replied, not wanting him to be so restricted.
He then began to explore his environment by kicking at the tennis fence. This was fun. “I’m in a giant playpen with mommy,” he must have thought. It was safe. There was no way out and no way in for anyone else. If any trouble did come, mom was close enough to meet it.
Close enough, but not fast enough. Sometimes trouble comes at the speed of light. Barefoot, he kicked a place on the fence near an outdoor outlet that was not properly grounded. The fence was electrified. Standing barefoot, on a court damp from morning rain, his life spirit evaporated with the morning dew.
An Emergency Room staff can sometimes be judgmental. They will often try to quickly surmise how they would have prevented a given tragedy, but all of us in the ER knew that there was nothing any of us would have done differently. We were frozen in the realization that this could have been our child.
We’ve come a long way since 9/11, but lest we think we can do everything and be everywhere, I think we must ask ourselves “How much is death really preventable?”
If we fill our days with extraordinary amounts of effort to prevent death, won’t we somewhere along the way be missing life? Some suggest 9/11 ushered in a new reality. They say that we have to live with the reality of death at the hands of madmen or misguided zealots.
But the truth is that ever since the University of Texas tower, San Ysidro McDonalds, Oklahoma City, and Columbine; we have lived in that reality. So it is not new!
Death has always been undeniably closer than we think and on September 11th, America joined the rest of the world in this realization. The Christian scripture teaches that “It is appointed unto a man once to die.”
The teaching admonishes not only to be ready to meet our God, but it seems to me that it is calling us to live our lives the way we would if we were to know with certainty that death is coming tomorrow.
Some might say that the school ban on cargo pants at my son’s school has prevented another Columbine, but before we try to impose a ban on evil, we should remember the words of the Psalmist who wrote that “the heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?”
If the fear of death stops us from living, loving and longing for a peaceful future, the planes that toppled the World Trade Center will also have succeeded in toppling the foundation of a peaceful society. Death is close, but life can be closer and I choose life.