It really does happen that fast, no matter what we teach them or how we warn them. And when it does, on their own, they might be screwed. So we try.
Within seconds of scrambling to the river’s edge, we saw my daughter’s muscular, competent body slip from the boulder, disappearing into the dark pull of the Crystal River’s runoff.
It was visuals more than anything: the layering of clear bubbles above her summer-blonde hair and sweet round face. A wet seal.
And cellular memory: my dog’s soaked, sleek, golden shoulders and head in similar waters, being swept away as I leapt down the water’s edge to haul him back out of Avalanche Creek at high water.
I noticed how brown my daughter had become this summer. White bubbles. Golden tresses. Aqua depths. Child. River. Colors and cortisol. Rushing, hurtling water.
No actual thoughts, my eyes only for her, I leapt down river boulders like an ape, bent low: intercept!
She looked so very tiny. So helpless. Nothing we’d taught her swimming or paddling came into play: feet first, down river…swim to the side! God, we can try, but…
She had no chance on her own.
I had no doubts on grabbing her. No other possibility exists in a mother’s mind.
Reaching down for her, I heard and saw my buddy’s body launch into the water, inches from my daughter’s head, and we lifted her together. Terrified gasps tore from my child’s mouth, her entire body trembling as she bawled in my arms. My friends and I were equally emotional.
I knew I had her. I’d grown up on water, the ocean, rivers, and lakes, swimming my whole life, rowing or fishing for decades. I knew where the current was taking her. I knew I could reach her. I knew I could grab her.
But for my buddy to leap in for her, too? That was new for me, a man, reacting on behalf of my child.
I’ve shared fathering with no one.
The Crystal was big that day, its water had been frozen snow crystals hours before. Leaping in, he too had no thought but to help a child. That support, that no-mind, instinctual effort to save my child? I cried. I had never experienced, that intensely, the unconditional love for my child with another parent, let alone another dad. I was ever so grateful for Tribe that day.
I didn’t know how to thank him. I didn’t know how to receive that love and care for my child.
I reeled with the shock of how quickly tragedy can strike. I was stunned at how meaningless words and lessons can be in the face of reality, of might, of Nature.
I didn’t know what to do with all these big emotions. I was in shock through the next day, and let my daughter tell her story over and over, to help her process it for herself. I relived my friend’s body puncturing the current, over and over, too…from where does that instinct arise?
And then, another summer afternoon, just days ago, actually, just me and several kids from our Tribe. I heard a crash and an endless scream, igniting the reptilian regions of my being. Looking up, I saw a vibrating black cloud whirling about a child whom I’ve known her entire life.
“RUN, Juno, RUN!!” I bellowed, as the upended hornets swarmed her in fury.
She was frozen.
Again. No thoughts. Just visuals: her eyes squinched shut, mouth stretched open, a piercing void of agony.
Sounds: dark buzzing filled my ears, louder than Juno’s scream.This child I loved with all my heart, her entire body akin to rigor mortis: immobile.
I ran straight into the cloud.
Eyes shut, mouth shut, bare-armed in a tank top, I lunged at her, scarcely feeling the hot bursts blossom on my arm and shoulder. I grabbed I-know-not-what, and hauled ass. No thought.
Just cortisol and love for this freaking child who could not run.
What we do for these children we are raising, together, all of us, Tribe, these kids of ours. No matter what we teach them, we simply cannot control everything. Not them, not their responses, not even how we ourselves respond. But unconditional, thoughtless, heartful love? It has a mind of its own.
These kids. They’ll be alright.