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There But For Fortune

It could have happened to any of us.  It still might.

The diving accident that broke Mario DeMatteo's neck. The renegade cells that became T.J. Frazee's cancer.

This time it was somebody else's children stricken, two talented athletes in their early twenties, Carlsbad High graduates with irrevocably changed lives.  One paralyzed, the other fighting the alien cells of malignancy.

But it could have been any of us, and we all know it.

For the moment we are safe.  Our children are unharmed.  The cascade of fears that begins with childbirth is held in abeyance. 

When we become parents, we hope for the best and fear the worst. 

A baby is a delicate and fragile thing, born into a world full of peril and calamity.  So many dreadful things can happen to a child.  We fear crib death and accidental falls.  Tricycle spills and ingested cleaning fluids.  We baby-proof our homes with socket plugs and trick catches on cupboards.  We greet each new developmental stage with joy and trepidation, knowing that new accomplishments herald new dangers.

The fears change as the children grow, morphing from one set of anxieties and hazards to the next.  As our children age and become more independent, as they move farther from round-the-clock parental care, we learn how helpless we ultimately are.  They ride on skateboards and hang upside down on monkey bars.  They race across streets without looking first.  They cough through fevered nights, splotch with chicken pox, climb too high and fall too far.

When the horrible happens to somebody else, we offer secret prayers of thanksgiving that this time our babies avoided harm.  Because they remain our babies, no matter how old or independent  they become.  And we come to understand that luck and chance are our allies.  I used to think that children were a gift, but I have come to believe instead that we have them on loan.  The catch is that we have no idea what the terms of that loan may be.

The Carlsbad Junior Women's Club's "Shop Till You Drop" benefit for Mario and T.J. made thousands of dollars for medical expenses, in a show of community spirit that brought hundreds of people together.  Vendors of scrapbooks, candles, jewelry, purses, cookware, cosmetics, and more set up tables at the Woman's Club building and turned back portions of their profits to the benefit.  A donation jar just inside the door overflowed with bills and checks. 

Women who hadn't seen each other in years were reunited in the crowded aisles.  I caught up with folks I'd known as a Brownie craft mom, grade school and junior high Book Fair lady, high school mini-grant coordinator.  I recognized friends from various PTAs, high school teachers and counselors, church community members, and at least one woman who herself had lost a child to cancer. 

The mood was upbeat.  Everyone shared  a desire to help, a frustrated sense of impotence in the face of such unfairness. And each of us offered a quiet prayer of gratitude that it was some other mother's boy who got cancer, some other mother's boy who took that last, life-altering dive.

At the end of the evening, Gina DeMatteo, Mario's mom, looked around the room in appreciation and wonder, then spoke of her son's optimism and determination.  "This all means so much," she said softly.  "I'm overwhelmed."

So were we all.  Because it could have happened to any of us.  And it still might.


All content © 2005-11 by Taffy Cannon.