Our nuclear family was reunited. We attended a wonderful service at BelAir Presbyterian. The sermon was on the parable of the prodigal son, which is my all-time favorite. The music was spectacular. We floated out on a happiness high.
Afterwards, we tried a new (for us) place in Brentwood for brunch. It was bright, chic, and elegant. The food was fabulous. We were joined by good friends Melissa and Hayley, and by Jay’s cousin, Johnny, who was just back from shooting a movie in Canada. It was a sweet time, full of convivial conversation and loud laughter. We had much to celebrate…Katherine’s recent progress…Grace and Hayley’s pledging of their favorite sorority at Pepperdine that week…Johnny’s upcoming movies and new contracts.
James entertained himself (and us) by putting bread, goldfish, Thomas the Train, and his juice box into glasses of water and on the floor. The wait staff was amused, not irritated. We lingered as long as we could, reluctant to go our separate ways.
We lingered even longer in the parking lot. Johnny made James laugh maniacally by turning him upside down and whooshing him around. Amie was cracking one-liners. Plans were being discussed, goodbyes and phone numbers being exchanged.
Everyone and no one was in charge of James.
I looked up to see him running across the parking lot to Jay’s car, where Brooks was helping him get Katherine settled in. At the same moment, I saw the rear lights of a van go on, in preparation for backing out.
A sharp panic rose up in my chest and burst out into a loud, hoarse scream. “Wait!” I yelled, to the car, to James, to God, to the moment. “WAAAAAIIIIITTTT!!!!” Then I started screaming my husband’s name.
As I screamed, I started running. In my little church dress and shoes, I burst forward like a horse out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby. Later, my family told me that they didn’t know it was physically possible for me to run that fast. I don’t really remember it. It was one of those slo-mo 15 seconds.
All I saw was a little boy toddling toward danger. The light of our lives oblivious to the risk to his.
And all I know is that I was going to get behind that van before he did, whether I had to fly or crawl.
I can barely write about it without feeling as if I’m going to throw up.
I guess the people in the van either saw or heard the lunatic charging up behind them. After scooping James up into my arms, I ran to Katherine and Jay's car like it was our team's goalpost with 3 seconds left in the game. I cried a little as they buckled him into his car seat. I couldn't breathe.
For the rest of the day, I was so shaken that I felt sick. I took some Advil and lay down with a pillow on my face when we got back to the apartment. When the 'happiness high' bubble burst, it left behind a dispersion of gray fog.
I think it was because I know something now, more than I've ever known it before:
It just as easily could have happened as not.
I think of the horror of what the Steven Curtis Chapman family has endured.* I’m sure that day probably started out as an ordinary day.
Those kinds of days usually do.
And then, in a split second, everything changes forever.
Cherish every little average moment...before it splits.
p.s. To ease Katherine's anxiety on the way home from the parking lot scene, Jay sang an old favorite from their childhoods: Amy Grant's "Angels Watching Over Me." It serves as a good reminder for all of us.