Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Son Died Yesterday

Have you ever stopped to wonder just how close  - just how many seconds away - you or a loved one are from total and complete disaster? 

Specifically, I am talking about the disaster of death. The death of a loved one, a child, or even yourself? How often do you think about how different your world would be without that child or loved one? 

Perhaps I am strange because I think about these things often. Perhaps it's because I think I shouldn't be here and am very lucky to be here - I should be dead. I think this way because of past experiences and I often wonder what my purpose in life is.

I probably think about life and death more often than would be considered "healthy."

This might sound morbid, but I have a point to make to you, so bear with me: Have you ever stopped to appreciate how many times during the day that you or your child are just inches or seconds away from death? Really! Have you ever stopped to consider that accidents might be occurring all around us? The near miss, the "almosts" the "very lucky" near escapes? Some of these "missed" accidents should have happened but, by some miracle, large or small, didn't? 

I do think about these things a lot. In fact, I did just yesterday and I certainly didn't want to, nor did I expect to. I thought about it as we were having fun...

Yesterday, I saw my child's death not ten meters (yards) right in front of my face and there wasn't a thing I could do to stop it. He was dead on the spot. A truck hit him from behind and dragged his body 25 meters down the road under the tires...

Well, that's what could have happened. That's what did happen, excepting, by some twist of fate, by the grace of god, the truck was seconds past us and hurtling down the street. That's what I saw happening in my mind...

It was an ordinary Monday afternoon. We had just came home from school and my son wanted to ride his bike down to the river. He rarely rides his bike and I want him to enjoy sports and the outdoors more so I always encourage him to walk more and ride his bike more.

Yesterday was very close to being the last day we ever did this

Right now, though, it's the middle of winter here in Japan, and quite cold, so it seems strange that my son wants to suddenly ride his bike all the time. But, I didn't want to deny his wishes especially when I can't get him to ride enough.

We came home from school and bundled up in warm clothes and he put on his bicycle helmet and off we went. We usually ride down to Tamagawa river through a wonderful park trail that we call "the magic trail." We call it that because I haven't bothered to find out what the real name of the trail and park are.

It was a fun ride down to the end of the trail down by the river.

We headed back towards home. On the way back, we have to cross a busy street named "Tsutsumi Dori." This is a street that is cursed with quite heavy traffic. The speed limit is 40 kilometers per hour (about 24 mph) but, as drivers are wont to do, most people drive 50 to 60 kilometers per hour (between 30 ~ 40 mph). This doesn't sound too fast but trust me, in Japan roads are very narrow, and when a 8 ton truck rumbles by you not one meter (3 feet) from your head, you can feel their force and power. The trucks are there because there is a cement factory up the road so these large cement mixer trucks are often barrelling up the street to load up on cement there. 

It is a busy street and dangerous.

It is dangerous enough that there is a crosswalk, not far from the magic trail, that we use to cross that street. Seriously, folks I am one to not usually wait for green lights at crosswalks, but this street is so narrow, and the cars are going so fast, and there are so many side street tributaries that anyone really has to be careful when crossing this street. I always use the crosswalk to cross this particular street.

Usually, it's not the car that you see that is dangerous, it's the ones you don't see that are dangerous.

A rare photo of Tsutsumi Dori when there are no cars on it. Anyway, from this photo you can see that this is a narrow street and if a child jumps out onto it, and you are doing 40 mph, you can't stop in time.

I was walking behind my son as we were on the return trip. We had just come out of the magic trail and onto the side of Tsutsumi Dori. That's when it happened; not 80 meters (yards) before the red light that marks the crosswalk, my son on his small bike, abruptly made a very sharp right turn and started crossing the busy street! I couldn't believe my eyes.

My world stopped and began turning in slow motion. He entered the busy road without even a glance to his right rear where cars would be coming up, at great speeds, right behind him. Within a eighth of a second, he was 1/2 way into the lane. Even if a vehicle had seen him enter the lane, he did it so suddenly that they could have never stopped in time. I expected to hear screeching tires....

The sounds blurred. The seconds were going by as if they were minutes. I wanted to shout "Stop!" but I couldn't, he was already in the lane. I thought, "He's dead!" In slow motion, I looked behind me to my right, where I expected to see a truck or car slamming on their brakes... Never in time to stop... It would be impossible to stop.

That's when I saw what should have happened. The truck hitting my son from behind and hurtling him dozens of meters in the air and under the wheels of an oncoming vehicle... His life and the crying of my wife and her parents flashed in front of my eyes... The guilt... My fault.... 

But....... thank god....... there wasn't any vehicle there. The lane was clear.

As my son was nearing the middle line dividing the lanes... I looked towards the oncoming traffic lane and there was a motorcycle coming up at high speeds but the driver of the bike saw my son from a distance and slowed down.

I screamed!


After the motorcycle passed, immediately, as fast as I could, I crossed the street and quite angrily began berating my son for crossing the street without even looking for cars... I was shouting at him furiously! He knew I was very angry and began crying. 

He crossed busy street on his bicycle without even looking! I was so angry that I could feel that I was losing control of myself. I wanted to slap him in the face but I only whacked him on the back - he was wearing a heavy jacket so it was light - but when I kicked him in the ass (literally) and kicked him pretty hard, he was bawling. I am ashamed to say that it was the third time in his life that I have ever spanked or struck him.

Japanese cement truck. See the narrow space on the right. Imagine this: The truck is doing 40. A kid abruptly turns a hard right a few feet in front of this truck. Is the truck going to be able to stop?

Last night, I was drained. I realized just how close I was to having my life turned upside down. I realized just how close I was to losing one of the big motivations and purposes in my life. I'm sure that, if he had been hit by a car, he'd have died or been permanently scarred or crippled for life.

How many seconds did we miss that one by? Two? Three?

If that had happened, I probably would have drank heavily last night and been totally useless for the next six months. I'd probably lose my job and want to kill myself. And all for what? Because of an accident that could have been avoided and because of carelessness.

Oh how close these things happen to all of us and our children everyday. I think we must all appreciate that fact. We must be thankful for the truly wonderful things we have.

This morning, I had a nice talk with my son. I told him that "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." I think he definitely understands just how lucky he was yesterday. 

I certainly do.

There are two morals to today's story. First: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." I feel my son was given a chance (me too). Actually that's the second time something like that happened to him. The first time was when he was 4 or so, and, suddenly, without any warning, he dashed out and ran onto a busy road. I was furious then too and spanked him.

We cannot hold our children on leashes or in chains all their lives. We cannot be sure what fate awaits us or them. All we can know is that today is the first day of the rest of our lives. Let us all live for today and appreciate the things we have.

The second moral is this: Driver's remember that there are children around like my child, who, for some completely unexplained reason, will do things like jump out into traffic. If you hit one of these children, your life and the life of your family life could be ruined. 

Remember that speed limits are not targets. Slow down and drive carefully. 

If you have the time, do yourself a favor and watch this short video:


Anonymous said...

Perhaps like the sun, one should not stare into death too long, lest it damage oneself.

Martin J Frid said...

That was a heavy post. I don't have kids, but my brother does, and I constantly worry that something like this will happen to them.

Big fan of your blog, thanks for sharing...

Joey said...

Wow, I saw the link on Twitter and was freaked out! I'm glad your son is ok...recently a relative of a family friend was killed in a hijacking and it proves the point you're making: the man, about sixty years old or so, went to pray at a mosque a few days ago and when he came out he was jumped by a group of men who tried to hijack him. when he protested they shot him In the head...and that was the day he decided to go a different mosque from his regular one. He may have still been alive had he just gone to the one he usually went to... We are always one step away from death and that's what people should remember, that this life is fleeting and we need to be good and kind to each another and live as fully as we possible can. Thank you for the great post!

Andrew Joseph said...

I think about the number of times I should be dead and it scares me. All of the stupid things I did... it's no wonder I am over-protective of my son... but he's 6... and he likes to do stupid things... I just have to make sure I am there to tell him what's right and what's wrong and to try and think about the consequences BEFORE he attempts something that could be dangerous. Good title. Scared the crap out of me, Mike. I didn't want to read this for a couple of days.

Raindance Film Festival: Confessions of a Sandwich Sign Man

I was hoping my parents never found out about this... But I can't live like this anymore; I can't live with hiding who I really am....