A little ways back, our kids started pulling some old videos from years ago that we had stored below our television (yes, we were still using a handheld video player). As we all had been spending more time at home than ever during the pandemic, we were all having particular fun watching footage from their early years, and reliving many different events and milestones that had occurred.
One afternoon, the kids decided to watch a particular tape from June 2010, the month when our oldest (twins), Zach and Emma, turned four years old. Immediately, my wife and I recognized the significance of this time period, which we will never forget as long as we live. On June 20 of that year, Emma, our 4-year-old daughter, got what every child wants on their birthday: an emergency craniotomy complete with 7 new titanium plates in her forehead. Biking with our family on a paved trail down by the river, she went down a grassy ravine and plunged headfirst into rip rap, only to emerge with a hole in her forehead after a stone crushed through her skull just under her helmet. As we could see the outer covering of her brain and she was bleeding profusely, we wondered if we had just seconds to behold our daughter before she passed on.
Yet miraculously, 4 days later, we emerged from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with our daughter not only alive, but speaking and walking as she had before the accident. With huge raccoon eyes (from the swelling) and a massive bandage wrapped around her head, she began her rapid path to a most improbable recovery. To say that it was miraculous underscores just all the incredible things that had to occur given just how horrific the accident had been.
Almost ten years later, what we didn’t remember is that just prior to lots of footage from the hospital and after coming home from her stay, there was a brief video of us on the morning of the accident. The footage was filmed on our driveway, and looked like another typical weekend day of a family getting ready to go on a fun activity. Emma and Zach were biking around near the garage, excitedly talking about the trip down to the river trail that was to occur less than an hour later. As we watched the video, my wife, Amy, and I sat there, not knowing what to say, but knowing just what was to come. Instinctively, I felt a protective urge emerge. I just wanted to talk to those people (us) on the screen, and warn them about what would turn out to be the scariest day of our parenting lives, and probably our lives overall. Yet a decade later, sitting with our kids in the living room, all we could do was just watch until the footage ended, and a hospital scene from days later emerged.
Weeks removed from this experience, I found myself with conflicting thoughts and emotions. What I was sure of was that if I could have spoken to our former selves, there is no doubt I would have told them to stay home. I say this even knowing that the lessons we learned in the weeks and months to follow from Emma’s accident have formed us in a deep, meaningful way. Lessons of awareness, gratitude, mindfulness, resiliency, and so much more. But all of that wouldn’t have mattered to me if I knew that we could have foregone the pain and trauma that our little girl experienced, and that we felt as her parents.
Yet what I must admit is remarkable about this experience is that what could have been full of traumatic re-experiencing and heightened vigilance and fear never was. Skeptics might say that it was because our daughter lived and thrived for another day. And maybe they would be right. But, so many people recover (or see others recover) from horrific events, and the trauma and anxiety remains for a long time. Yet long before the year anniversary of her accident came to be, the trauma was long gone, replaced by a peace that has never left.
People often say that everything happens for a reason. I agree, but in a little different way than what is often meant. Sometimes I do believe that God orchestrates events in our lives that we would have never, ever chosen because we need to grow in ways that were not possible until then. But often, I simply believe that the “reason” is that human beings encounter God’s natural law (or other human beings), and events occur, as they will. At the very least, God allowed Emma to have that accident (i.e., because the natural law come into contact with her and our behaviors, and God did not supersede this) while on the other end of the spectrum, God could of orchestrated it for a greater good (which certainly came to be).
Whatever the explanation, it occurs to me that when bad things do happen, we don’t have a choice to direct our former selves away from the impending danger. If life were like a home movie, played at a later time, we would just adjust to the dangers we know are to come. But, no matter what happens, we are always left to ask the question, “Where has this led me to now?” If it is a place of continued trauma, that is certainly understandable, although we might decide at any given juncture that it is time to take more of a director role, not just an actor in the play. But if it is a place of growth and formation, then we might be forced to acknowledge that sometimes it is better that the production turned out as it did, and that we were to simply play the role as best we could be.