My mother tried to teach me to see danger. Even the kind you can’t see until it’s too late.
“You have to watch for it,” she’d say. “Pay attention and try to use the sense God gave you!”
I remember an autumn when the trees were ablaze with color.
“Look, Mama,” I said, “aren’t those trees just beautiful?”
“If I had my way,” she said, “I’d cut ’em all down. I’m scared they’ll fall on this house!”
She saw danger everywhere. I saw my share of it. But mostly, I saw what fear did to her. How it kept her from enjoying life. How it locked her up in a prison of her own making. And how, if I let it, it would lock me up, too.
My mother meant well. But I was young, full of myself and thought I’d live forever. I tried my best to be fearless. My fearless days ended when my first child was born. After my third, I could see danger everywhere. Even the kind you can’t see until it’s too late.
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My main mission in life (along with cooking, cleaning and trying to stay sane) was simple: I had to keep my children safe.
I tried to teach them to see danger. Look before crossing the street. Never run with scissors. If you fall off the roof, just remember on the way down I told you not to go up there. But far more than danger, I taught them to see beauty, to feel joy and live life to its fullest. I never wanted them to be a prisoner of fear. I just wanted them to be safe and stay alive.
I meant well. But they were young, full of themselves and thought they’d live forever. They tried their best to be fearless.
Somehow, by the grace of God, they survived. They are now responsible, caring adults with children of their own. I never worry about my grandchildren. Their parents are teaching them a perfect balance of freedom and safety. If there are dangers, they see them long before I do. When my kids were small, their favorite beach was Lovers Point, a sandy cove a short mile from our home in Pacific Grove, on California’s rocky coast.
The water is cold, below 65 degrees, but it’s a bit sheltered from the wind and the waves lap more than crash. We didn’t own wet suits, so the kids mostly waded in the surf and built castles in the sand. It’s now the favorite beach of four of my grandkids, ages 7 to 11, who live nearby. They often swim there in wetsuits, while their mothers sit on blankets, as I once did, watching over their babes like ducks on June bugs.
On a recent day, they planned to meet friends at the beach but canceled at the last minute.
That morning, a man who was swimming just off shore was attacked by what officials said was a 20-foot great white shark.
Several people — including a police officer and a nurse, who were in town to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and a surfing instructor who was teaching a class — heard the man’s screams and paddled out to pull him to shore. He was taken to a trauma center with massive injuries. But thanks to those who saw the danger, and yet risked their lives to save him, he is expected to survive. Meanwhile, children who had been in the water stood dripping on shore watching the dramatic rescue. Who knows what they will take from that experience?
Life is not one thing, but many: Joy, heartache, heroes and villains, bravery and fear, danger and deliverance. In the same way we teach children to avoid what may harm them, we need to teach them to embrace what will heal them — what will build them up, make them whole and give them peace.
That story is not just about a shark attack. It’s about bravery, compassion, kindness, survival and good people who faced danger to do the right thing.
If those children (and others like my grandchildren who weren’t there, but will hear about it) remember anything about that day, I hope they’ll remember the heroes. And soon, whenever they are ready, I hope they’ll get back in the water.
Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.”
She can be reached at