Think You’re Safe?
Empathy and Compassion Are Attainable
Absolute Safety Is Not
Young man drowns off Vero Beach. Toddler dies after being left in hot car. Teen dies from fainting “game.” I read the article headlines, but I don’t stop until I’ve read every word. Why? I feel an immediate deep ache for the child’s parents, family, and friends and I grieve with them. But I also want to know what happened and how or why the loss occurred. In the case of any newsworthy drowning, if it’s local, I want to know what beach, what time, and the weather and surf conditions. I want to know if lifeguards were on duty. I sometimes question why I want to know the specifics—and I even feel morbid for doing so—because knowing changes nothing for me and for the loved ones of the drowning victim. It can even be torture knowing the why, yet being unable to change the conditions that led to the drowning or any other tragedy.
In the recent drowning, the beach was not guarded, it was late afternoon, and the surf was rough. So my rational mind right away decided that if I avoid going to the beach or prevent anyone I love going to the beach at such times, I’m safe, they’re safe, we’re all safe.
It’s clear what we must do:
- Swim at the beach only when the water is flat and warm.
- Swim only when hundreds of people are there in case you need help.
- Swim only when lifeguards are on duty.
- Swim only when no sharks, rip tides, and rough surf are present.
- Swim only when the weather is perfect, not too much wind, maybe a light breeze to cool the sun rays on your skin, no storm clouds, no rain, nothing in the forecast for hours before and after your journey to the ocean.
If all the variables are stacked in our favor, then the beach is safe, safe, safe.
Except it isn’t. Nor are our home, our car, the airport (and of course not the airplanes), bicycles, cashews, public bathrooms, walking trails, schools, and even hospitals.
We could live in constant dread of every place we go, the means to get there, what we eat, how we play, how we work. However, such fears are unnecessary, exhausting, and futile.
My beach-safety checklist, although prudent, won’t guarantee a perfect beach experience, free of any mishaps. Certainly, we do our best to keep ourselves safe. We avoid dangerous ocean conditions, follow car seat safety guidelines and the rules of the road, and we avoid dark and scary (and stormy) places.
Alas, absolute safety is unattainable. The chaos that can strike on an ordinary day or in the course of a secure, serene life catches us unaware. As much as we yearn (and do our best) to stay safe and keep those we love safe, we don’t have an extra/sixth sense we would need to prevent every accident of the universe, because accidents are sudden, unplanned, and unintended.
The nature of most accidents and other fraught-filled events is surprise. On reflection, some of them could have been prevented. Reflection, however, is a present action and the accidents we wish we could have prevented are in the past.
Until we have working Time-Turners, we cannot change the past. It’s frustrating, but try as we might, we can make our present only so safe, because safety is relative; it reflects order, like an up-to-date first-aid kit tucked in our car trunk. Having that kit is important, as is checking beach conditions, following driving rules, and cooking poultry to safe temperatures. But part of life’s mystery is our sheer lack of control over so many events. Often, we are struck with joy at life’s surprises; conversely, some of them break our hearts.
In spite of my efforts, I know I cannot always be safe. Even so, when I learn of yet another tragedy and I asked those questions that really have no answers, I also shall ask additional, more important questions: How can I lend a helping hand? How can I express empathy and compassion? How can I help heal hearts?