Beau December 24th, 2009
A scary thing happened today. We took the day to head to the big city and tour a few fun places. One of which offers kids a chance to climb, crawl and explore among inumerable manmade caves, walkways, ladders, staircases and other creative devices. It’s actually built throughout an old shoe factory, and is an amazingly fun place to visit. You may know it, and I won’t name it because that’s not the point or my focus.
While exploring the wonders of this place, we were deep inside trying to dodge dozens of other kids and adults, and to keep up with our own. Some of the tunnels, crevices and walkways were only big enough for small kids to get through. Most of the adults had to find less claustrophobic ways to keep up.
To say that it was confusing at times is an understatement, but we found out how quickly our lives could change. I was coming around a dark corner, emerging into a small open area with a spiral of conveyor bars reaching what seemed to be a hundred feet high…
Looking up at the climbing spirals
If you looked the other way, there was an opening that dropped for at least sixty to eighty feet straight to the bottom rocky area below. I took this all in as I walked around the corner, marveling at the imagination it took to build it all. And then I saw him.
As I looked up I saw that the boy, about ten feet above us, was climbing on top of the spiral ladder with a great big smile on his face, asking me where it led. And then my heart leaped… immediately I knew something was wrong. Just a few feet away, the bars dropped off to that hole, with nothing to hold on to. He wasn’t supposed to be there. It wasn’t a ladder but a tunnel or slide of sorts, with open bars above, even though it looked like a lot of the other climbing areas.
Yet he had climbed over a waist high bar and started climbing up on top of the tunnel… I simply said “Stop” and thank God he listened. People wonder sometimes why you must teach kids to listen, and that was one of those times. I’ve talked with him before that if I ever say things like that, to really listen… he did.
I walked quickly to the spiral looking up at him and said “You’re not where your supposed to be, but just move up a bit more to your right and keep holding on carefully…” and that moved him away a little so in case he slipped he wouldn’t fall right off and I might at least have a grab at him. A million things go through your head in moments like that.
Harmless looking spiral tunnel slide, except that edge at the bottom of the picture drops off more than sixty feet below…
I muttered something else about staying there- no one else could have helped us at the time. We saw that there were only two places to get him- at the back where he would have to step down and to the right more than I wanted, or I could climb up and hold on to him, and make sure he got down safe. That was my first thought wanting to make sure I blocked his fall path, so I ran around where he got on to try and climb up myself. But as I put weight on the bars they seemed too springy for me, maybe not even able to support my weight and I didn’t want us both to tumble down. My wife liked the backside option and I agreed- it really seemed the safest thing we could do besides having him climb down himself… right along the edge. No way.
So I had him move carefully right and slightly down (just above the top of the picture) and grabbed an ankle like no tomorrow… and then we were helping lift him down (behind that picture above). It was over in a minute really, like nothing happened. He didn’t even seem to realize what the big deal was until I showed him the dropoff, and where he was. He wondered why it was so easy to get up there… (me too).
It seemed a really a poor design with a bunch of kids running around… he thought that for himself. Perhaps most folks wouldn’t have climbed over one of the bars to get there. Who knows, so much of the stuff the kids were climbing around looked similar.
All I know is that someone’s usually going to find a way to get in trouble or find a weakness with the designs of man. Today was our chance.
After a lunch break I found a manager and talked about safety. They actually had a program in place to take suggestions and try to make everything as safe as possible. We found our way to the place and I explained what happened, and what I saw as design flaws. They were amazed no one had thought of that and put a work order in immediately to modify the contraption to prevent someone else from climbing up or falling off. I felt better.
It’s amazing what can happen in a moment. It brought me back thinking about those moments where my own life and others have hung in the balance. I used to teach younger pilots to land on aircraft carriers, and while at sea to make sure aircraft got aboard safely. The difference between life and death was often mere seconds. Too many stories there, but maybe I’ll share a few sometime.
For today we went back to having fun, a little more sober for the experience, and the boy got a few more hugs than usual.
Then a funny thing happened later on, in a different sense. Well, not funny so much as fun to see. I was circling a parking lot out in an empty area at a department store. Way down one of the rows I saw a thirty-something woman pushing a cart, hurrying quickly toward a lone car far out in the lot. Then I realized she wasn’t quite hurrying, but instead was walking quickly and stepping up at the back of the cart while enjoying the rolling glide down a gentle slope. Grocery cart skating we used to call it! Her hair was blowing out gently behind her, and she had this big, amazing smile on her face, obviously finding such joy in a private moment.
As she coasted quickly to a stop at her car, I couldn’t resist driving up and rolled the window down, smiling too and simply told her it was fun to watch her enjoying the moment with the grocery cart. She laughed, a little embarrassed, but said it really was fun because she was alone and not worried about all her kids, and she probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise. We wished each other happy holidays and waved as I drove off. She was still smiling.
Two moments. One day. And I’m thankful.
May you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and time enough for reflection and enjoyment for the little moments along the way.