On July 24, 1998 at 1:25 pm, exactly 15 years ago. you drowned. I have never had the courage to use the word "drown" because of the terror that emanates from the image. I have always said near-drowning, but the reality is that you did drown, submerged 25 minutes under the waters of a raging river, a foot entrapped in rocks. Heroic efforts were made to bring you to the surface. No pulse, no heartbeat, no respiration, just a blue pallor and a peaceful face. God was asleep, he was absent, he was indifferent, perhaps he never existed. Yet, you survived; not by any intervention of divine nature but rather through the remnants of our evolutionary heritage's response to the possibility of drowning , the mammalian diving reflex. You survived months in Intensive Care - left without speech, the ability to communicate, the ability to move, and a body which gradually froze in spasticity and contracture. You hovered between death and life and eventually chose life. Everyone pretended to care, at least for awhile. You were momentarily surrounded by friends, relatives, flowers, balloons and trinkets...for a awhile. But that was 15 years ago.....
To this day, I am plagued by images of you being entrapped and enveloped in water. I am plagued by the terror which filled every cell of your being. I am plagued by the fear of your impending death. I am plagued by the image of planning a funeral as I traveled to the trauma center. I was plagued by the possibility that you might not make it, that you would be alone...your greatest fear as a child. I am plagued that you always spoke to me about the need to be cared for, long before the accident. I am plagued by the unspoken, unacknowledged burden and grief that these events have imposed upon my daughter, Aimee. I am plagued...wounded, and the wounds can never, ever heal. Maybe, they should not heal! One never gets over this terror. For 15 years, I have never eliminated the fear that something can go wrong. I think and feel the worst; smiling is a rarity for me, even though you, my son, always smile. The sorrow is chronic and the fear unending. I never, as a father, yield - always searching for the magic bullet which makes life easier for you.
But you, son, are alone, Alone in your fear, your thoughts, your dreams. You are alone, even as mom and dad passionately and unconditionally care for you every minute of every day for 15 years. Alone...but, does it have to be so? Where are those friends, your cousins, your aunts and uncles, your teachers and therapists...all those who should care and reinforce the fact that you are not alone, that you are alive, that your life is worthy? Why have they run? Fear, lack of comfort, time and distance, not knowing the words to say. fear of the look in your eyes, my son, guilt over the lies they told (remember, some said they would be there for however long it takes). Do they see their souls in your loving and yearning eyes? What stories have they fabricated to justify leaving you alone? Or is it the evil of human indifference, the "not caring" which renders you only an abstraction.
July 24 will come and go. We will celebrate your life and struggle with you. Will there be a phone call to see if you are still alive? Will there be cards, flowers, balloons, small tokens of love? I know one hero who will call, who always calls on that day to say you are never forgotten. One man, one constant voice in a wilderness and sea of indifference. There are also a few others of importance and significance who will remember. Yet, your struggle is more meaningful than that of others to whom much is given...but should much not be expected from ?
I have many questions to ask you? How intense was the struggle to live..how much fear did you experience? Did you see the other side when you drowned? Did someone tell you it was not your time? Did someone tell your spirit to return to your body? How much did you fight? How much do you remember? What went through your mind? Did you see the white light? Was this side better than that side? Did you know you would be cared for on this side? Did you know the intensity your fight would demand of you? Did you know and believe that your parents would become warriors for you? Did you know that your friends and relatives would soon leave? Did you know that people would be fearful to visit you and to care for you...did you know in that 25 minutes what life would be like and why did you choose this life? What do you feel about people who have abandoned you, who opposed you in your fight for justice? Did you forgive them or is that forgiveness for them to find for themselves? Is there any emotion which evaded your consciousness? What prompts you to continue the fight on a daily basis? Someday we will have this conversation...someday I will know and someday I will no longer have to wonder. And yes, if there is a God, He will need to beg forgiveness from both of us...he was asleep, he was indifferent, he was absent...
Of course, indifference can be tempting -- more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction. Elie Weisel, 1999
*“If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.” — A phrase that was carved on the walls of a concentration camp cell during WWII by a Jewish prisoner (Mauthausen camp).