Daniel got “the besd pikshr” award for his drawing at school today. It’s a somewhat still life of a blue ATV crashing into the back of a truck. I think it deserves “Best Effort,” myself. He managed to draw it with his cast on, the cast he got when his blue ATV collided with the back of Daddy’s truck. Daniel is the hero in his picture, while the ATV is the unruly evildoer, and the obstacle to overcome is the truck. It’s a mythic drawing, a little boy blue on a speeding vehicle (depicted by the trailing blue crayon marks), one arm in front of himself to avoid hitting the huge truck parked in his way. The Daddy figure is tall, twice the child’s size, standing too far away at the front of the truck, his arms in the air.
I’m glad I wasn’t there.
My husband had to deal with the immediate terror, the crying on the long ride to the emergency room. I had to answer the phone and hear, “I’m taking Daniel to the hospital. I think he broke his arm.” En route, I prayed without ceasing: “Don’t let him feel pain.” There is so much we are powerless over. Daniel had to feel the pain in his bones.
That thing I wrote in my last column about being our son’s higher powers, and how his Daddy is a good example? Well, let me re-think that one for a minute. My husband ordered an ATV without my buy-in (because he knew I was against it). It was delivered while he was working out of town. The third time they took it for a ride, Daniel broke his arm. I gave up.
My response was all I could control. The seventh step prayer comes in handy in such emergencies: “My Creator, I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to You and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding. Amen.”
After the accident, I asked my husband, “Did we learn anything here?” He was horrified enough that I didn’t need to be the happily right one (this time). He said he should have known that Daniel was scared of the ATV. This is what we learned: if you use your arm as a brake, it will break. If you put your son on a powerful machine, it will take him for a ride.
Step seven’s focus is on humility, on being right-sized, not out of control or in control. I was humbled, once again, to know how little control I have and to see how many things block me from being useful. So much stands in the way: pride, anger, fear, not to mention full-sized trucks. But it’s the things in the way that teach. Our limitations are immense and our costs and risks huge, but without them we cannot reach the beauty that the struggle creates in us. We need to have lots to lose. Humility is needed to live usefully and to summon the faith necessary to meet life’s daily emergencies. As we learn how to deal with the fact of human suffering, there is no need to run from pain or problems.
Two weeks later, we headed to Florida on a working vacation, consolation prize-style, with an armload of Valentine roses and their plastic bags to secure Daniel’s cast from water. Daddy worked while we rode an airboat through the Everglades, fed lorikeets, climbed palm trees, walked miles, and searched for treasure. A few days into it, Daniel made this surprisingly cool retort to one of my many requests: “Give me a break.” And he was right, so I laid off. That became our running joke. Except for sidewalk protocol that demanded hand-holding, I gave him a break, and he gave me one, too. At that moment, the vacation alone with him turned out to be a lot easier than I’d thought.
At an outdoor café one night we photographed the full moon between palm trees. Then Daniel almost ran into traffic after jumping down from a crooked tree he had climbed to better see the moon. Later, at an art show, we saw a stunning watercolor with subdued yet brilliant blues of the night sky over the full moon-lit ocean, its centerpiece a boy in the sand surrounded by palm trees, staring at the moon. I want my boy to see the moon. I want to be alert without controlling. That night I prayed: “Remove my fears, yet allow us safe passage at night by moonlight, so we can dream, so we can see how small we are, trying to catch sight of the moon before it turns to face the other side of the world, before it turns its back on us.”
One morning on the beach Daniel stepped on a jelly fish, the bloated blue creature lying on its side in the sand looking like a plastic baggie. The tentacle wrapped around his ankle and he started screaming. Daddy carried him back to our B&B and found that his aftershave relieved the pain. Later we read that urine is the natural cure — the jelly fish’s stinging poison is actually healed by pissing on the wound. The boys loved this idea, the paradox of it; like so much wisdom in the world, it makes perfect sense.
Sometimes fear needs obeying, serves to signal what to stay away from, like an ATV or traffic or a jelly fish. Whatever God wants to remove from me, He can. But it may sting, or feel like I’m getting pissed on. Step seven is the change in attitude that says, “I don’t know what’s best for me.” It also says, “Life happens.” It reduces my demands, my self-centered fears, and my frustration. I begin to try humility in seeking removal of any defect, just as I did in steps one and two with alcohol. I want to be happy, not right. Unexpected breaks from life both hurt and help.
God will not remove everything that stands in the way. Things must break us, and we must break ourselves on things. It seems to be how we humans learn. We crash into things, into each other, and step in goo. Then we wonder what drives us, exuberant children staring at the moon, our reach exceeding our grasp, mythic mortals trying to climb higher than the world allows.