Behind the Scenes: (Almost) Losing Sarah
We looked like something out of a freak show. A plump, flustered lady lugging a lawn chair, blankets, a pillow and a bag standing next to a tall, bald man who looked liked he’d escaped from the set of Schindler’s List. Two excited, fluttering children jabbering about swimming in the ocean while gripping beach towels and waiting impatiently for the Muni to show up.
The brisk San Francisco winds wafted the words of our strange group around. I looked up, glad for the sunny October skies and the ability to fulfill our daughters’ desire to swim in the ocean (we lived in Montana—one swims in the ocean when one has the chance, not just if the water is warm). Everything and anything we could do to make the few days we got to spend together normal was worth every grey hair and frazzled nerve.
“I’ll help Daddy up the steps!” declared Laura, our oldest daughter, as she moved into place at his side.
“Thank you. Need help.” Pedro’s words required effort because his facial muscles remained frozen.
“I have the towels!” Sarah excitedly grabbed Laura’s towel and stood in the front of our group. I shifted my load and worried about whether or not Laura’s nine-year-old muscles would provide enough help for Pedro to negotiate the two steep steps onto the approaching train.
The Muni slid to a stop in front of us. Sarah danced around behind the people in line ahead of us, waiting for the disembarking passengers. I decided at the last minute that I could carry everything in one hand and assist Pedro with the other. While shifting my load to one hand, I heard the doors start to slide closed I looked up in shock. Pedro and Laura were inches away from the entrance. Sarah was inside the Muni. Her face frozen in horror as the door whissst closed with a solid thud.
The world around me entered slow motion. I heard the lawn chair clatter to the sidewalk as I lunged for the door and pounded on it with both fists. Laura screamed. Pedro sounded like he was underwater. The train gave a jerk. Some smart person inside the train hit the emergency button. The train jerked again. The doors slid open. Eager hands reached out to help us gather our belongings and lumber onto the train. The doors slid shut.
Caught without a plan. In retrospect, I probably could have sprinted alongside the train to the next stop—it wasn’t that far away, and the Muni doesn’t move that fast. But Sarah was only eight. We had no plan. We had been caught off guard in a big city with no proper plan for what to do if we should get separated. The girls didn’t have cell phones, and I wasn’t even sure if they knew our phone numbers.
As we neared the end of the line and the Pacific Ocean, my mind kept repeating the scene. The whissst of the doors. The look of horror on Sarah’s face. The feeling of drowning. I didn’t even notice that the man in the corner was rocking back and forth talking about the voices (on our return trip, we saw him handcuffed outside a store), or the old man carrying a parrot on his shoulder. All I could think about was our loss—our almost loss.
How unprepared we remained for emergencies and separation.
We lugged everything off the train and the girls ran into the bathroom to change. We made our way across the street to the sand dunes. Laura and Sarah flew ahead, oblivious to the cold, the wind and the near loss. I dragged the lawn chair, the blanket, the pillow and my bag to a sheltered spot with a view of the surf and helped Pedro settle himself.
The girls lunged into the ocean, splashing and squealing in delight.
“That was scary.” Pedro said.
I nodded, unable to speak about it yet. Finally, I ventured, “Maybe we should have a plan about what to do in case of emergencies.”
Silence cloaked us.
“I’m cold. Can we go?”
I nodded and called to the girls, “Five minute warning! Daddy’s freezing and we need to get him warm!”
They grumbled good-naturedly, but their blue lips belied their words of wanting to stay in the ocean longer.
I looked at my watch. Fifteen minutes. We’d almost lost Sarah for fifteen minutes at the beach. I shrugged. It didn’t matter. Fifteen minutes or five hours. When life holds only uncertainty, every minute counts.
Plans. You should have one. If everyone in your family enjoys good health, now is a great time to talk about plans. Plans for emergencies, plans for disasters, plans for ICU and catastrophic events. Not talking about those things won’t prevent them from happening. Make plans before you almost lose someone. Trust me. It’s better that way.