It was an ordinary Tuesday night. Our son, Will, had gone with Liz to choir rehearsal and piano lessons. Alistair, our youngest, and one of his friends were playing Quidditch in the backyard. I was in the kitchen putting together a grilled chicken salad for supper. I went to the back door to call Alistair in for dinner. I heard his friend call out, “Race you to the door!” I turned back to the kitchen, hearing the storm door close behind me. As I filled the water glasses for us to drink, I heard a sound that makes any parent’s heart leap into the throat, the sound of shattering glass, followed by an eternal moment of silence and the sound of our child crying out in pain.
It felt like I was moving in slow-motion, my limbs heavy as molasses as I rounded the counter top to see my seven year-old baby through a maze of broken glass. Shards clung to the frame of the storm door; slivers littered the ground both inside and outside. Alistair stood there in shock, looking down at his hand and the blood that was already dripping hot and red onto the broken slivers at his feet.
I brought Alistair in through the shattered door to wrap his hand and examine his wounds. As we washed off the blood and applied pressure to his hand, he mentioned that his back hurt. Raising up his shirt, which appeared untouched, I began to realize the enormity of what had just happened. His hand had mostly superficial wounds. On his back was a two inch long gash that cut half an inch into the muscle just below his shoulder blade. It took me a moment to think through the logistics of how I could tend both wounds simultaneously. I did not have enough hands. I could not do enough to protect my baby. The terror of parenting paralyzed me.
Eventually it occurred to me that Alistair could be an agent in his own healing. I gave him the cloth I was using to clot his hand and asked him to press hard on the places where it was bleeding as I set to work applying pressure to the wound on his back. It was only then that I noticed the cut on his neck. It was a thin line, about two inches long extending from just below his jaw nearly to his collar bone, right across the jugular vein.
It was a flesh wound, with only light capillary bleeding, easily cleaned up. It had already clotted. Now fully operating in triage mode, I moved on, working out solutions for applying pressure to his back and hand wounds while trying to get him to urgent care. He obviously needed stitches. I called Liz and sent her into a tizzy asking her to come home. I did not have enough hands to bind up my child’s wounds and get him the help he needed.
Somehow, I cobbled together an adequate bandage and met Liz and Will at the nearest urgent care facility, which of course, did not open for another 1/2 hour.
As we waited, the enormity of what just happened washed over me. Alistair told me he tripped, which is why he went hand first through the door. His momentum pushed his hand and arm through the shattering glass as he fell to his knees. His head stayed outside the door, exposing his neck to one of the shards sticking up like knives from the bottom of the frame. As he recovered and pulled out of the door, his shoulder blade was sliced by one of the shards lining the top of the pane.
I shutter to think what might have happened had he been going just a little faster, or did not catch himself on his knees. A fraction of an inch farther and this might have been a very different story. I felt the shards of fear piercing my heart. How close we were to seeing our lives shattered and lying in slivers on the ground.
Alistair is fine. Five stitches in his back and four on his hand, he was back in school the next day. As with most kids, he bounces back, but with a somewhat more healthy respect for glass than before.
It took me longer. I went to a church Trustees meeting after Alistair got stitched up. Somehow the issues there seemed small in comparison, but it was good to share the story with people who would pray with and for me. Church business kept me focused. The next night I had another meeting. As I drove past the urgent care center on the way to church, my heart started racing and my head was right back to the night before. I was not very effective in the meeting, I’m afraid. My heart was not there. A few days later I found a wet paper towel on the back porch. As I picked it up, its texture in my hands took me right back to the moments when I was passing a similar cloth to Alistair to clot his own wound.
I do not have enough hands to keep my children from harm, dress their wounds, or pick up the shattered pieces when they fall.
It was not until a week later that I was able to cry and release all the pent-up emotion of the past week’s events. The trigger had nothing to do with the events, but was a little note inscribed on a pink post-it and stuck to the purple box that sits on my dresser. The box was a gift from the pastoral care department at the hospital where Liz had her first miscarriage. Will had written a simple note: “Grace Virginia Rand (heart), Will.”
I do not know when Will wrote the note, but I had never noticed it before. Suddenly, all the grief over unborn baby Grace was attached to Alistair, and I was able to cry.
The terror of parenting is that we cannot be everywhere; we cannot always protect them; we cannot take away their pain. We can only come when they call, bind up their wounds and help them learn to be agents of their own healing. We can be there to pick up the pieces when they crash and give them a calm assurance that everything is going to be all right, even when we’re not so sure ourselves. All of which is what God does for us on a regular basis.
Our hands are not enough, which is why it is important to remember that not everything depends on our hands. It was God’s hands that held Alistair amidst the shards and slivers when I could not. It was God’s hands that stanched the flow of blood. It was God’s calm assurance that cleared my mind and helped me know what to do. And it was God who, through a simple post-it note, broke open my heart and helped me grieve.