The moments you don’t see coming

Enjoy this monthly post written by Patrick Riecke, director, Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services.

Twelve-year-old me on a yellow bus.

I have blocked out most of my middle school years. I wasn’t super confident … or smart … or athletic … or popular … or talented at really anything. So, other than my dashing good looks (please do not google “Patrick Riecke’s middle school yearbook photo”), I didn’t have much to go on.

I went with the flow, took the normal classes, and tried not to stick out too much. My grades were fine, and I only remember visiting the principal’s office once, and I can’t remember if I was tattling or getting in trouble. Shop class revealed that I stink at working with my hands and the lopsided pillow I made in Home Economics didn’t bode well for my future family, either. When I showed up to band in 6th grade, my (amazing) band director asked, “What do you play?” I said I played piano, which was true. She told me no one plays piano in 6th grade band (which I now know is also true).

“How about baritone?” She asked.

“What’s a baritone?” I asked.

Then I spent the next seven years playing baritone (FYI, it’s that thing that looks like a small tuba, also called a “euphonium”).

That’s all that I remember about middle school, other than really hating going to the dances, and really loving satellite pizza (does anyone know where I can find this today?).

Except for this one other moment …

Like I said, I was on a school bus.

We were in a long line of other school buses, just like any other day at middle school. It must have been warm. I remember the green vinyl of the belt-less seats being sweaty under my middle school legs. Those metal-framed windows that we all slid down as soon as we got inside. The rapid and meandering conversations of tweens. We did not pull out our phones like kids today because our phones were at home attached to walls.

Our driver, to whom we paid little attention, pulled out of the school lot. And right into a car that was coming down the busy street. The sound of the crash carried through the air and into those rectangular windows and right into our perfect ears.

What happened next was a blur.

No one in the bus was hurt. But I do remember three things: First, I remember there was a baby seat in the car. Right where our bus had collided with it. I don’t remember a baby, I just remember the seat. My adult self is pretty sure that I don’t remember the baby because the baby wasn’t in the car for that trip. Thankfully. Secondly, I remember my bus driver’s mascara. She was crying and black rivers were migrating toward her chin. Lastly, I remember her saying over and over, “I didn’t see them coming. I had just looked. I didn’t see them until we were crashing into them. I didn’t see it coming.”

I didn’t see it coming.

This reality rings in my ears now as an adult. How many times have I felt this way? Did I see adulthood coming? My wife’s miscarriage? The birth of my other four children? New jobs, new houses, financial swings, world changes, the illnesses or deaths of loved ones? Most of the time I could say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming. Not until I was crashing into it.”

When I was in youth ministry, each year we held a special night where we recognized our graduating seniors. We creatively entitled it “Senior Recognition Night”. My children were small at the time. And every year the parents of the graduates told us the same thing: “It feels like just yesterday we were bringing them home from the hospital. Don’t blink.” The tears in their eyes as we prayed for their children seemed to say, “I didn’t see this coming.”

Last weekend was Father’s Day. And my oldest, who enters high school this fall, showed up to the van in the morning dressed just like me. I think it was actually on purpose. After lunch, we took a photo together and when I saw it my jaw dropped.

I posted it to a page I maintain and it looks like this:

I didn’t even see it coming.

Babies don’t stay babies.

People move.

Jobs end.

Loved ones die.

My amazing chaplains have, as part of their work day, the regular opportunity to stand alongside families and patients in these moments. These, “I didn’t see this coming” moments.

Sometimes they stand beside patients in a moment of diagnosis. Sometimes treatment options have run out. Sometimes after a heart attack or stroke. Sometimes after a car crash or act of violence. Often it’s said out loud. Other times, it’s all over their faces. “I didn’t even see this coming.”

When the bus comes to halt. When your baby turns into a bride. When the diagnosis is frightening, there’s no manual on how to respond, but three thoughts from my 12-year-old mind still hold true today:

  1. Break the dam on the mascara. If you need to cry, don’t try to stop it. Just cry. It’s all good.
  2. Accept grace. When you realize there was no baby in the car seat, accept the grace. When you realize the boy standing next to you on Father’s Day has disappeared and is replaced with a truly amazing young man, accept the grace.
  3. The kids still need a ride home. We still had to get home safely. Our bus driver had to pull herself together and get us each home. Which she did, beautifully. My young adult son no longer needs me to wipe his face and cut his sandwich. That reality is over. But he does need me to love him like a dad loves a young man. He needs me to support him, cheer him on, and maybe occasionally provide some advice.

So, if today finds you saying, “I did not see this coming,” go ahead. Have your cry. Accept the grace. And get the kids home safely.

 

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