Every day in every part of the world, there are things that happen that end happily, with great relief, or end with devastating sadness and overwhelming grief. A child chasing a ball, steps out from behind a parked car, and narrowly misses being hit by a bus when the driver, catching something out of the corner of his eye, manages to hit the brakes, just in time. A toddler left unattended for just a few moments opens the back door and falls into the family pool, drowning, while his parents, believing their son was sleeping in his room, are making love. Horrors in Iowa occur simultaneously with laughter in Mexico City. Chance does not favor race, and tragedy waits in the shadows for innocent victims. There is no possibility of understanding how this works, other than an acceptance of the randomness of the universe. To think that good deserving people are spared, is proven false every moment. Certainly we can lessen the risk of loss with safeguards and foresight, but even then darkness has a way of finding many of us, and wreaking havoc. Child molesters win the lottery, while good honest people are robbed at knife point.
Secluded and tucked away at the back end of the mountain Town of Grand Lake, Colorado, the Lemmon Lodge was the perfect place to spend our last day of summer vacation. We were on our way home from Yellowstone where we spent four nights camped in a conversion van. Cramped and without any amenities, the van was still quite comfortable and since we were still young, it was a great adventure for Judy and I, and our three year old son, Matthew.
We were lucky to find a cabin available at the lodge, as someone had just cancelled. Typically, they are booked well in advance, and with good reason. The Town of Grand Lake is an old and textured community that sits adjacent to the deepest lake in Colorado. At 265 feet deep, this large lake is a very rich blue, and astoundingly beautiful. The Lemmon Lodge sits along the lake’s edge and has a point which is where the inlet waters from Rocky Mountain National Park enter Grand Lake. At the right time of the year, this inlet makes for very good trout fishing and much to my delight; the fishing was said to be excellent when we checked in mid afternoon.
Matt was a happy child who was great fun to be around. Precocious and intelligent, he was the joy of our life, and every second spent with him was affirming and wonderful. Like most good parents, our world revolved around him. The cabin we rented was rustic and old, and it was a relief to have a real bed and our own bathroom. It was a perfect summer afternoon when we finished exploring and Judy said she was going to lay down and read while Matt and I fished. I remember how excited I was to rush to the inlet and I quickly set up my rod and told Matt to stay next to me and help me fish.
The fishing was fabulous. I have gone entire summers without catching a nice trout, but on that day, in that place, I was experiencing magic. Matt was excited as I pulled in my first fish, and he had a hand on reeling in the second large fish. Then, like a 3 year old, he quickly grew bored, and walked around; staying close to me so I could keep an eye on him. The problem was, I didn’t do a particularly good job and after a while I noticed that he was no longer within eye sight. Looking around it was clear that he was gone. My God, how long had it been since I actually looked up to make sure he was there. In the instant that I realized that he was missing, I went into a mind numbing panic.
Rushing to our cabin, and finding that he was not there, I drew Judy into her own panic and hysteria. “Matt, Matt, Matt”, I yelled, as I looked everywhere. Going from one end of the property to the other, no one remembered seeing my son and soon my panic turned to disbelief. This was like a very bad dream, except it was really happening and I could not awaken, and make it go away.
Not knowing where else to look, I forced myself to walk the short boat dock, looking in the water for my sweet son. At that point in time I think there was a reasonable chance that Matt was either dead and floating in the water somewhere, or he was abducted. Leaving the dock, I continued to call his name. Judy was at other parts of the property continuing her own frantic search. By now we were thirty minutes into looking for him and I suppose our next move would have been to alert the authorities, but then I saw my boy casually walking down a hill, not far from me.
I yelled to Judy that I found him and rushed to Matt who explained that some kid wanted to show him his cabin. I was shaking when I hugged him and explained to him why he can’t ever leave our side without telling us.
There is no doubt that I was completely at fault. I knew it right away, and it gnawed at my heart and soul every second I was looking for him. I don’t know why I was given a second chance that day. I have thanked God a million times, but I know too that other deserving parents have their hearts ripped out in similar circumstances. All that I could do is become a more diligent father, and I have fiercely protected Matt, our only child, at every turn.
I don’t know what my life would look like if chance and circumstance had punished me. I marvel at parents who live on after they have lost a child, although I am certain they are never the same. Considering that it was I who was totally responsible for Matt wandering off, I am reasonably certain I never would have forgiven myself, and it probably would have resulted in losing my wife, with whom I just celebrated our 41st anniversary. I think I would have lost myself too. Perhaps I would have joined the legion of broken souls who reside under bridges, drinking the pain away.
So I continue to give thanks, protective of my son, now an adult, while remaining on guard and hoping that I can continue to find favor in this lifetime.