I almost broke down yesterday…twice.
The first time was in the O.R. at Cornell Medical Center. My daughter, my little girl, was going in for a minor surgical procedure. They let me suit up in fake paper scrubs and a goofy blue shower cap. Then the nurse walked us, hand in sweaty hand to the staging area.
We walked into the O.R. and I could feel my daughter’s grip tighten. She got quiet. As if the bold white walls and bright xeon lights were draining her lightness. But, she was brave and as they laid her on the table, I walked around continuing to hold her hand and trying to joke.
“She’s only 7,” I though, “My God, she’s so much braver than me.”
The anesthesiologist gently placed the mask over her nose and mouth. Her eyes widened. Her brows raised. Her grip tightened. I talked to her, anything to distract her and let her know it was all okay. She pulled her head away, as if to pry it loose from the mask, but the hand that held it there followed her every movement.
“This is normal,” the nurse said, “it’s alright…she’s alright.”
Moments later, she was out. The anesthesiologist turned her head, told me to kiss her cheek and asked me to leave. “What if she wasn’t really out yet?” I wondered, “I didn’t want to go until I knew.”
I kissed her cheek and as I pulled away, I began to tear.
I don’t why, I just did. This was a minor thing. It’d be over in less than an hour. But, there was my little girl. MY little girl, unconscious on the table.
The nurse asked if I was okay.
They were all so nice. I couldn’t answer her. I knew everything would be okay. But, still, I couldn’t speak without breaking down in the hallway. So, I smiled and nodded a nod the nurse had seen before, knowing it was a lie.
Minutes later, on my way back to the waiting area, two women boarded the elevator. One in her late thirties wearing a scarf over a clearly hairless scalp. The other in her late 50s. They stood looking at each other and as the door closed, the younger one began to tear.
Her mouth quivering as she whispered to her mother, “fuck, man.”
Her mom began to reach out to console her, stopping midway, not knowing what to do or say. Clearly, the news they’d just received was not good. A moment later the door opened, they stepped out and, for the second time that day, I struggled to fight back tears. What a parent wouldn’t do to save their child from pain.
I honestly don’t know who’s at the helm in this life.
I believe in some greater universal energy that unites us all, but I don’t know if I’d describe it as God or assign to it the prescience of some master plan.
But, here’s what I do know.
We have a finite time on this planet to spend playing with, adoring and simply being near those we love. It could be an hour, a decade or a century. There is no certainty.
Nobody plans on being on the short end of the life stick. But, it happens.
Which leaves us with a choice. Spend whatever time we have fully engaged, present and involved in the relationships and experiences that make life worth living. Or, play the odds and hope we’ll have time to connect with those who make us come alive…someday.
I choose today. Won’t you join me?
P.S.—By late afternoon, my daughter sat snuggled between my wife and I on the couch, deep into baked ziti, pizza and ice cream as we watched re-caps of her favorite grown-up swimmer, Michael Phelps, win again last night. No better place to be.