Monday, December 10, 2012

Chain Reaction

When Jack was little, he and Tim would spend hours setting up elaborate machines to make chain reactions. Margaret and I would swoop in to view the final products, but only the boys had the patience to rig up pulleys out of Tinker Toys, make tracks out of paper towel tubes, and send marbles and wooden trains down paths to a desired effect.

My favorite was the balloon popper, when Jack was about 5.  Pulleys and buckets and tracks set off reaction after reaction until, at the very end, a sharpened pencil would dip down and pop a red balloon. The idea! The excitement! Every single action and reaction had to be perfect in order for this to happen. I remember standing there, video camera in hand, as each object set in motion the next and the next and the next. The balloon looked doomed for sure! But in the last second, as the pencil spun toward the taut balloon…nothing. The point was not quite sharp enough to pierce the balloon.

I’ve been writing about our lives. Jack’s life,  and thinking of the chain of events leading up to his death. Not ruminating, but trying to understand and lay things out. It truly is amazing how one thing led to another and at any point, at the the smallest of junctures, the momentum of that day would have been diverted and it would have had a very different ending.
If the power company had trimmed the trees along the road that week, instead of just one week later, and the electricity had stayed on. If I had said to the kids, “You need to stay inside.” If our neighbors had considered the creek in their backyard to be hazardous. If Tim had made it home at his usual time. If the weather had been windy and cold instead of balmy and intoxicating. If I had gotten to the creek 10 seconds sooner. If. If. If. You can take this way back. If we had not wanted a bigger house 9 years before. If I had been brave enough to move out of state when the kids were small.

Chain reactions are persnickety things. Every single factor has to be perfectly placed or they fail every time. I find this frustrating, yet interesting.
We can all look at our lives and imagine if one thing had unfolded differently. If Tim hadn't been at a graduate level pool party when he was still an undergrad, we never would have met.  If a devastating miscarriage hadn't led  to another, different pregnancy you would not have the very baby you are cuddling right now. If a chance conversation had gone a different direction...
If. If. If.
I remember sharing with Jack an intriguing book about how every action counts, "The Butterfly Effect," by Andy Stanley. It's a lot to think about.
Chain reactions. Too much for a Monday morning?
 
*****
For your viewing pleasuse, here's a short clip of one of Jack's smaller chain reactions. Seeing Margaret at the end is priceless. It's worth it even if Jack is rubbing (not picking!) his nose. Sorry, Jack.
 
video
 

47 comments:

Mary Beth said...

Best wishes to you, Anna. It's impossible to stop thinking about those if onlys, what could have happened, that extra 10 seconds. Thinking of you.

ashley said...

Margaret's face was, indeed, priceless. I think about the butterfly effect all the time. I usually think about it when bad things happen, but it's important to remember the good things, as well. Know, Anna, that because of your tradgedy, many of us are hugging our kids tighter, taking more pictures (with us in them!), and becoming closer to family and friends. Thank you for setting off that chain reaction.

~Ashley in Louisiana

Arnebya said...

Not too much for a Monday, no. It's Monday perfect, actually. The ifs will get you, you know that. Yet, I'm sure it's so hard to push them out of your mind. Thank you for continuing to share Jack and your family with us.

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

I think a lot about those ifs too. It's hard not to, when so many things could be different. At church we have been watching a video about the science behind the star of Bethlehem. It was a bit too technical for me, but one of the final points was this... God knew when he created the world that the stars would align the exact way they did on the night of Jesus' birth. Amazing! Looking at it this way, there are really no ifs. I know this doesn't change the hurt, but maybe it helps to know that it was all in His plan...from the beginning. Hugs to you and your family!

The Empress said...

This is the thing I've learned about IF'S.

IF's assume a happy ending. They could also go like this: IF I had moved to a different state then maybe something else could have happened.

We never know, and what looks safer and greener may actually be darker. There are different ways to die: some not physical.

We never know. I see people with children so mired in drugs and addictions that my heart breaks: they see death every day. I work with a woman whose son has been in heroin rehab twice. He's only 21. It's heartbreaking, and she left the big city to move to the safer suburbs when he was little. To avoid exactly this.

Life. We can't outsmart life.

My mother left South America to escape the civil war when it began. My father was in the military police and she was afraid he'd die, be killed. Only to come here, and two years later, he killed himself from depression of leaving his country.

Life.

xo

Miss Stewart and Students said...

Did you read Mick Harte? I think Mick and Phoebe's dad called them, "If onlys."

sigh.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Frustrating.

I love the video. Thank you for including it and for talking about this today--the connectedness of all things and chain reactions. It's been on my mind lately, and your words provide me with some clarity.

love,
jbhat

Deb said...

I have spent a lot of time thinking about “if only” – both because I have lost people in accidents and because I was spared in a serious accident last year (at the time I said I had been granted an ‘if only’ as I saw clearly that things could have turned out very differently).

Have you seen the movie “Sliding Doors” with Gwyneth Paltrow? The movie shows two versions of a woman’s life: one where she misses the subway, and another where she doesn’t. Both story lines culminate in the same place—they each just take different paths to get there.

I don’t think I believe that we all have a set fate that we cannot change, but just playing with this idea that we do have our time, and that our free will affects the journey more than it does the end point suggested to me that perhaps some of those little details don’t matter as much as they appear to. Of course, in the next moment, I’ll be on to a different theory, but I do think this idea helped me (with a lot of time) to let go of some 'if onlys' that were just driving me mad.

If this is comforting to you, then by all means run with it, but if not, please just discard it. We all have to make our own sense of things…

Anonymous said...

I hear you trying very hard to come to terms with what happened to your beloved child. Words feel so inadequate, but I am so very sorry.

I'm humbled by your courage in posting a video, any video, because you've said it's almost unbearable to watch them.

But because you did, we get to hear Margaret's laugh.


“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different - deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.”

Anonymous said...

PS I watched it again. "Laugh" isn't quite it. Glee? Merriment? Anyway, it's something that isn't too much at all for a Monday morning.

Kim Proctor-Day said...

If. If only. I think we all do that, but especially in times of great loss when we are questioning everything. Regret is such an excruciating painful debilitating emotion. I hope you know that your stories about Jack and Margaret and your families struggle to deal with all of this has really touched hearts and changed lives... Sending you wishes for some peace and comfort this Christmas, I will be thinking of you xoxox

Geri said...

Not too much for a Monday morning. Not too much for any morning.
The grief counselor I saw after Nick died said something very similar to what The Empress said when I would bring up my "ifs". I wonder if I had done this.....and yes, we assume that if a different chain reaction occurred, the ending would be better. Maybe it would have been, or maybe much worse. We don't get to see into the future, we make our decision and choices and hope for the best. And for me, at least, I assumed that if I did certain things, my children would somehow be protected from danger and, well life, and all that can bring. Our son died of a drug and alcohol overdose. I remember bringing a photo album in once to my therapist, to share with her how beautiful he was, but there was part of me that wanted her to point out what I had missed. When did we turn left when we should have turned right? "Tell me what do you see, what did I miss, is there something you see there that shows I should have done some action differently". And she said "what I see is a mom and dad and their two beautiful children living their life. Perfectly normal. Birthday parties and family vacations and Christmas mornings....that's what I see." I don't know if it's part of a grand plan, or just how life works on earth. I do know that you had (have) a beautiful family, and you lost your sweet boy, and that sucks beyond words or measure. And again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and life with us.

Sharon @ Elizabeth & Co. said...

Not too much for a Monday morning Anna. This is something I actually think about quite often. And it defintely works both ways - good and bad, happy and sad. ... Gosh, life sure is complicated, isn't it?

Heidi said...

Oh, what Alexandra said.

Did I tell you I woke up one morning with tears in my eyes thinking of you? Another day I was watching something (I can't remember the show) and Jack came to mind, and I prayed for you because I didn't know what else to do. Because Jack being gone doesn't make sense. I think sometimes 'praying for you' is said so often it can lose its meaning, so I don't pull that out a lot. But, I want you to know I think of you, I pray for you and I feel for you. And I love you.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I don't even know the words to use. I feel like I owe you so much for changing my life. You see, I stumbled upon your blog as a first time mother last November while in the depths of post-partum depression. And Anna, you were with me every night when I just cried and cried and cried. But because of you and your courage to tell the world about losing jack I held on so very tightly to my son. And I got through the darkness because of you. I don't know exactly where that fits in with the "ifs" of life but I am eternally grateful for you Anna.-Tina from NYC.

Anonymous said...

I am very analytical by nature and I know I would spend the rest of my life analyzing 'what if', 'if only'...

My thoughts and prayers go out to you and I hope you eventually get some freedom from this constant thought pattern. I have a hard time with it myself.

Life can be infuriating at times. We will all drive ourselves batty.

None of us know why, but maybe we will one day. Hugs at this hard time of year for you! NovaJen

Laura at Ms. Smartie Pants said...

If only...
I love your family, you guys are just precious!

Marissa said...

But also if you had not started this blog ages before, you wouldn't have us to send virtual hugs your way.

And I am sending you a giant one--we love you and are always here for you to spill, vent, celebrate, reminisce, etc with.

I want to thank you as well--I am normally the person behind the camera, instead of in front of it. My husband and I have pictures of him, pictures of me, but not as many of us together. Now that I am pregnant with our first child, I am making a huge effort to get as many pictures of the two of us (three of us)as possible--no matter how fat I get.

Know that you touch other lives every day.

Gigi said...

The "ifs" in my life drive me crazy; so I can only imagine what they must do to you. The Empress is right though, we all imagine what a better outcome would have happened if only....

The book 11/22/63 (which has been on my mind quite a lot lately) lays this out very well and reminds you that may not be the case.

Sending you hugs, love and prayers.

ella said...

Oh girlfriend....I've played the if game for years. It's so hard not to. That video is priceless. Margaret totally reminds me of my hilarious girl there at the end. Made me laugh!

Meredith Self said...

I'm fascinated, too, incredibly fascinated, with the connections of one thing to the next. The ways we interrelate and affect one another. The synchronicities. The seeming pattern that emerges only in hindsight. I love that poem Tim shared of the tapestry!

Can I just say Jack's rube goldberg contraption rocks! And I adore Margaret's rooting for him. Sharing your family with us, with me, is so inspiring. The yummy and heartbreaking parts, all of it, inspires me. Can't wait to read your book!

Love you!

mollysmith222 said...

What "if" Jack was never born and you never had those wonderful 12 years with him, and he was loved more than some kids get in a lifetime. That is the "if" I hope you can hold on to. The pain you feel is not something I can understand but I do know, you were both very very blessed for the 12 years you had. Wishing you love and prayers always, Anna.

anymommy said...

Never too much, I love your thoughts.

PeachPrenni said...

Loved this post and I "get" it. I need to get that book by Andy Stanley...I LOVE him!!! Did I tell you he's the head pastor at our church? He has such a gift for practical teaching. xo -Annie

deb said...

Did you ever see the movie "Groundhog Day"? There is a scene where Bill Murray tries over and over again to save a homeless man from death. He tries everything he can do to prevent the inevitable, but it still happens. Maybe it was Jack's time to be an angel no matter what you did.
You will never know what would have happened if Jack hadn't gone to the creek that day. But, what you do know is that your last interaction with him was an extremely positive one. You said, "yes" when you could have said "no", he danced down the street with a smile on his face. What if you had made him stay home? What if you have had a big fight because you were being a "mean mom"? What if Jack had snuck out anyway and met the same fate?Your last memory of Jack alive is such a loving one, you will always have that.

A Speckled Trout said...

I read this quote recently that has stuck with me from Hildegard de Bingen.......

"Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God."

How very true for all of us.

Lady Jennie said...

I loved seeing your kids. And I loved this post. The chain reactions are too perfect - they can only come from the one who has the patience to rig all the proverbial tinker toys and paper towel holders to absolute perfection. Even if perfection is not what we understand.

Lisa said...

Oh the "what if" game. Those are definitely chain reactions...one small change and an entire history could be different. Hugs and prayers for you, as always.

By the way, I absolutely loved the ending where Margaret shows how excited she was. Love it!

Kathy at kissing the frog said...

Oh mama, I do the "what if's" all the time. What if I had taken Joey to the doctor when he was two and had a HUGE goosegg on his head. Would they have done a scan then and found the tumor and would it have been operable then? I hate the what ifs . . .so pointless and hurtful. I love your video. I'm a bit jealous. We don't have many videos of well Joey, just sick Joey. That's so precious to have. *Hugs*

Jody Clarke Hand said...

Think of you often, but especially when I hug my 2 1/2 year old little boy and now 6 mos old twins. My heart breaks for you and also opens wide and welcomes you in a hug. I know this blog helps you, but know please, how much it helps me also, so very much... Thank you. Jody from JMU

Anonymous said...

erAt the funeral of a nephew who either overdosed or killed himself, the minister kept repeating: "don't play the what if game." Instead, celebrate what did happen that was good in this young man's life -- celebrate his days as a giggling toddler; his grin as he played soccer with his friends; etc etc. He challenged us to honor his life by focusing on all that was positive and all that was real.

Hugs to you in your confusion and grief.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

How wonderful you have this! How wonderful you've shared it--and your reflections. I think you can probably either drown in "ifs" or swim through them--it seems that is what you are doing--with grace.

Thinking of all of you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna:
I wonder if you would consider writing some time on the value of grief counseling/therapy/support group. I'm not suggesting anything too personal, but there are still a lot of people (ahem, my mother) who think that stuff is "a lot of nothin'" which is very sad because they miss out on A LOT and simultaneously place a large burden on family members to play the role a therapist should. Just a thought.
And prayers for you.

One crazed mommy said...

That made me laugh - Margaret's reaction was priceless! :) I know how hard these must be to view, though - bittersweet!

Anonymous said...

Anna-This post is a direct hit for where I am this week. A couple years ago, reached out to an old friend thru Facebook. Years, and years ago, I treated this magnificent human being...not so kindly, just wanted to explain my personal circumstances that led to my poor decision-making at the time, and let him know he was one of the most treasured friends I had ever had. This week, we finally had the conversation that got all the old stuff out there, his story, my story, the misunderstandings, all of it. The chain reation of one misunderstanding after the other, is unbelievable, and has resulted in almost 30 years of lost time as friends. Now that I know all the facts, I can't reconcile it. I'm so deeply devasted by the loss, the absurdity. I feel like if something so senseless happened once in my life, it could happen again, and again. I'm frozen. He says "everything happens for a reason", he's OK. Any idea how I can get "OK" too? How can I stop feeling so sad about all the mistakes, all the loss? You've already done so much for so many by sharing your life, I hate to ask for more. If you have any advice I would so much appreciate it.

Princess Kate said...

My son said to me the other day in the car "why do you always think about the what ifs? It's ruining my fun." I wish I could stop the what ifs but I can't. I'm not sure it's a bad thing tho.

Thinking of you all so much this holiday season. I hope God provides you all with the gift of peace this holiday season.

Leslie said...

I love your kids.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I know that after something so tragic the what ifs flow like crazy. Life is filled with them even in the best of situations.
I think that way very often about my life and my childrens lives. I know we are not supposed to question Gods reasons but I know I do it all the time. Praying for peace in your heart. Love the video, that is sooooo cooool!
Love, Debby

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Anonymous said...

I could drive myself crazy thinking about the what-ifs. Just have to let go and trust in God, I think.

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Anonymous said...

In the two short videos that you've posted on your blog, I gathered so much about Jack and Margaret's personalities and connection. I love how her excited screams made Jack throw his arms up in a silent cheer. Margaret had the same reaction when calm, collected Jack busted her while she was filming in the car. Man, she just loves her big bro so much.

chris from midwest cottage and finds said...

i have thought about those same exact things with regards to jacks accident..what if the kids did not come to your door that afternoon-what if the storm had taken a different route that afternoon, what if you had run out to run an errand and told jack and margaret to stay in for the afternoon....so many things had to be in place for the accident to take place....i am once again so sorry for your loss...i cannot even begin to imagine what you are going through...you are in my prayers each day....

My Inner Chick said...

Sending you LOVE from Minnesota.

Xxx

Ann Imig said...

These words are even more poignant today, as so so so many people are torturing themselves with "if onlys"

Praying for peace peace peace for you, for Newtown, for all of us.

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