Monday, April 27, 2009

Mr. Harry

On Thursday night I realized with dismay that, because school was conveniently getting out two hours early the next day, the bus stop run would conflict with an important phone conference I had to participate in. Oh, the joys of working from home. After a brief pow-wow, John and I decided to let Lucy walk home from the bus stop alone for the first time. It's only about 100 yards, but you have to walk down the hill before turning onto our lane, and then you have to walk down the lane to get to our driveway. She knows the way, of course, and knows to walk in the grass rather than on the road, and so on, but we had never let her try it on her own before. As with so many things, she was excited, I was conflicted and apprehensive.

Still, the conference must go on, so Friday morning I wrote a note for Lucy to give to her bus driver (known to one and all as "Mr. Harry") explaining that I was at home but couldn't come out to meet the bus, and that it was OK for her to walk down the hill alone today. I confess that I was not paying much attention to the phone conference as the appointed time drew near and I strained to look out the window. You can't actually see the bus stop from the house, but eventually I saw her turn onto the lane and I breathed a sigh of relief. Just then I heard a "toot-toot!" and saw Lucy turn to wave at someone I couldn't see. Mr. Harry, of course. He'd waited until she got all the way down the hill before driving away, even though that put him at least five minutes behind schedule (probably longer, knowing Lucy's walking speed).

It was typical of him. He was the kind of guy who had inside jokes going with most of the kids, who managed to draw shy Lucy out of her shell within the first week and who honked the big bus horn at Ben every day as he drove up the hill before dropping Lucy off. As I went out to get Lucy today I was thinking that I would thank him for keeping an eye on her on Friday. He would brush it off, tease Ben about wearing his rain boots on this 90 degree day, and drive off.

Except that Mr. Harry wasn't on the bus today. A woman I'd never seen before pulled up and, as Lucy was climbing off, told me that on Saturday Mr. Harry was in, of all things, a traffic accident. He died.

As the tears filled my eyes, I thought of how this was the first person Lucy has known to die. I knew I would need to talk to her about it, and that I would consult my therapist mother for advice on what to do. I knew I would have to decide what, if anything, to tell four-year-old Ben. I knew this was something you deal with in life, and I knew we would deal with it. But, while I knew all this, I was momentarily stunned by the suddenness of it. By the vivid reminder that you just don't know, from one moment to the next, what will happen. You can't live your life worrying about it, of course, or you would go crazy and your children would grow up to be agoraphobic.
You have to let your kids walk home from the bus stop on their own when it's time and keep your apprehension to yourself. You have to operate on the assumption that tomorrow will come along in due time and that it will be pretty much like today. But every once in a while something happens to make you realize that this, like all assumptions, can be spectacularly false.

I guess the antidote, if that's the word, to the unexpected turns life takes is to appreciate the present as much as we possibly can. To find joy in the things we do every day. To toot the horn at a little kid who wishes he got to ride the bus, too. To take an extra five minutes making sure someone gets home safely.

We'll miss you, Mr. Harry.

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