I know there are not a lot of other ways to go about it. I know that when bad news comes, no one wants to be the person bringing it. I feel this most oppressively in the fall. This is the time of year when I came home and got the call from my mom on the answering machine telling me that I shouldn't call back, but I should just come over to the house. When I got there, I found out that my friend Darren had died in a car accident. Fast forward a dozen years, and I come home from work to find my wife sitting on the front steps of our apartment building. She had just been on the phone and was waiting there to tell me my father's plane had crashed. Though he lived long enough for me to get back to Colorado for one last tag, he was gone shortly after that.
This is why, when our school's secretary came out on the playground to find me before the bell rang last Thursday morning and told me that I needed to call my wife, my initial reaction was to run in the opposite direction. What possible good could come from this interaction? If I had won the lottery, she would have announced it to the world. If there was a problem with the washing machine, I would have expected an e-mail that I could pick up somewhere in the course of the day. No, this one had "emergency" written all over it. Did the house burn down? Is the dog all right? Are all our parents moving around, taking in air?
As it turns out, my son had merged his bike with a car while riding to school. Happily, the sandwich and pear in his backpack cushioned his spine and the helmet he was wearing did more damage to the car than the windshield did to his head. He got a police car, an ambulance, and countless middle-schoolers' attention, and abruptly after that I got the call at my school. When I called back, I was immediately relieved when my son answered and said, "I got hit by a car and I'm okay." Those nine words were all the roller coaster I needed. There was a day of reflection after that, where I mulled over all the things I still need to tell him about life and how to live it, but the fact that he is now telling all of his friends that they need to wear a helmet when they ride their bikes seems to be the most profound piece of wisdom that I could share. Sometimes life can be short and scary. Other times it stretches out for weeks and months when you walk across a playground to make a call home to find out what is happening. That's scary too. The good news is that sometimes the story has a happy ending.