Heartbeat by heartbeat those moments unraveled furiously away from me, doing what they would beyond my control, an eternity encapsulated in the quiet space between thinking and feeling.
In those moments Elle struggled to breath through an airway that wouldn’t let her and an entire hospital staff flooded into her room to force her (please God) to breath, I came as close as I ever have to “living in the moment.” Reality is intense when your reality is condensed into the sensation of everything you know falling away from you like a house of cards. Scrabbling desperately for a handhold, just as little Elle had struggled like a drowning person that night in the hospital bed, thrashing and grabbing, desperate.
Desperate because in that moment we all felt gravity’s pull and it became clear to me that I could do nothing to stop it. That we would crash, a heap of appendages and frantically beating hearts, and there was no telling how many pieces we’d have left to pick up, what parts would escape damage, and which places would suffer irreparable harm.
We know it’s there, the dark corridor we’ll all someday walk. But it comes as such a shock when the doorway opens unexpectedly before you, threatening to swallow all you know about yourself, unsympathetic to all the things you had meant to do before this moment arrived.
For my family, life righted itself. The fall wasn’t as violent as it could have been. Doctors finally intubated her. Ambulances and Flight for Life got her to Children’s Hospital, where a ventilator breathed for her, allowing her body to recover. And when she was no longer sedated, no longer attached to beeping machines and a cobweb of tubes and wires, we were able to see that she was still Elle. The time she spent deprived of oxygen did not permanently damage her brain. The free fall ended, and just in time.
The doorway swung shut and we emerged from the point of impact, dazed and stunned, cracked but not wholly broken. Our little girl came home and is healthy, and we wake up each day and dangle our legs over the side of our beds to dip our toes in the future.
But there’s no guarantee that we won’t fall again. There are no gates protecting our children, or our parents, or the people we love most in life, from stumbling through that doorway when it opens, never to return. It’s harsh, death’s indifference. I’ve spent the last year ruminating on this stark and callous fact. The path we had imagined for our family could have been thrown drastically off course that night last February, but for reasons I honestly cannot explain, an event that could have changed everything wound up only to be a jolting bump in the road.
I can’t call it luck or destiny or fate, it just is. Life, astounding and fragile.
Our community is hurting right now because Nate Soules’ death feels exceptionally groundless and cruel. It is our nature to demand an answer, especially when none exists. It is our nature to seek solace in finding a moral, to tell ourselves we’ll take the sad and the hurt and turn it into something productive.
As history has made clear, it is this community’s nature to resurrect the decades-old discussion about winter travel in Bear Creek following accidents there. We want to make sense of the senseless. We want to find logic in the illogical. Who wouldn’t want to slam that doorway shut if they could?
But as history has also shown us, Bear Creek is alluring, dangerous and indifferent. Decades of ever changing policies about travel there have not changed that.
We’re a hurting community that wants to believe we can save ourselves from this stark kind of hurt in the future. But we’re also a community that lives for what Nate was doing when he died. We live here and start families here because we realize there is something so real about life in the mountains. It is alluring and addictive. It’s also dangerous and indifferent.
So while we’re occasionally hurt by the intensity of life here, we’re also lifted up by it. Truly living in the moment, not looking so far ahead or behind, feeling the path, heartbeat by heartbeat – that is what we live here for. To fear what may lie ahead would be to live outside of the moment, adjacent to but not really participating in life in real time.
I’m still occasionally jolted into consciousness, remembering those moments my family spent in the freefall. And though I know it’s futile to fear something like death, as inescapable as it is unknowable, I still fear it sometimes, in those quiet spaces between thinking and feeling. It’s then that I hug my family tighter and breathe in the sweet scent of our togetherness a heartbeat longer. I can’t stop the hurtful things that may lie ahead. I can only be present, wholly and fully, to accept the small gifts given me moment by moment.