“Mommy, go!” says Jude before I’ve even started the car.
I laugh and hop into the driver’s seat, strap on my seatbelt, plug in my phone, then get the engine going before I back out of the driveway. As is the case every weekday morning of the school year, Jude and I are each on our way to a day of school.
At the corner, just before we pull away from our development and into the world, a nagging thought creeps into my mind. In the two seconds it takes to swirl around my brain, the notion turns into an overwhelming feeling of panic, and I make the split decision to make a quick u-turn and head back to the house.
I pull into the garage and tell Jude I’ll be right back before rushing back in the door and sprinting up the stairs to the bathroom.
I am afraid that I’ve left the flat iron plugged into the wall and that the house is just hours away from catching on fire, taking the cats and all of our worldy possessions with it.
Of course, this wasn’t the case, nor was it an issue any of the other thousand times I thought I forgot to turn off the flat iron.
I have a problem.
When I was college-aged and living at my parent’s house and working at my summer job, I’d call my brother almost every day to ask him to check the curling iron for me. I’ve turned around on numerous drives–to work, to friend’s and boyfriend’s apartments–and I’ve rushed home in between classes to confirm that I didn’t leave behind an impending fire hazard. And when I didn’t have an opportunity to peek in on my appliance, I spent the day/evening worried about what I would/wouldn’t find upon returning home.
One time in college, in an off-campus apartment, I left my curling iron on by mistake while I went to the cafeteria for lunch. When I returned to my room, I found it melted to my answering machine. It was horrifying, the thought that I wasn’t that far away from incinerating our rental home, and it stuck with me all these years later, almost to the point of madness.
Those small little “almost-accidents” in our lives are often more profound than the actual disasters. Once, my car slid on some ice while I was driving in a snow storm, sending me into a series of 360 degree turns on a major highway. I haven’t been able to drive calmly in even the slightest bit of snow ever since.
Another time, a man begging for money in the Port Authority grabbed my arm when I told him I didn’t have anything to share. I just didn’t feel comfortable opening my purse in that vulnerable moment, and he made me feel less safe by putting his hands on me when I told him no. The man wanted to get my attention, and boy did he have it. I got angry and jerked my arm away before telling him to never, ever touch me again. Sometimes, I get the chills just thinking about that harrowing moment and all the things that might have happened if I didn’t react the way I did or if he became more aggressive.
Often, I marvel at how trusting and open and just excited about the world Jude is every moment of every day. Life is so new and so wonderful to him. He knows almost no fear and absolutely no shame. He has no agenda. He just lives, moment to moment, happy to see almost everyone he meets, free to express any emotion that he’s feeling. I can’t stand knowing that the process of living will create worry and anxiety and doubt. I hate knowing that he will feel pain and hurt and sadness and shame. I want to protect him from all of those dark, negative things, but that isn’t reality, and it isn’t life. He needs to experience them as well as the good things (though less so), just so he can get the full depth of being alive.
I have to remind myself that I am lucky when I experience “almost-accidents” instead of real ones because they teach me to be more cautious, to have my eyes opened a little wider. But at a point, it’s important to stop fixating on what might happen (or might never happen) and just kind of enjoy the moments without worrying what comes next.
Perhaps there’s no better place to start than with my crazy “did-I-leave-the-flat-iron-plugged-in-oh-my-GOD-we’re-all-about-to-die” thing.
Do you worry about leaving appliances on when you’re not home? How have “almost-accidents” shaped your life?