There is often just a minute sliver of time between a tragedy and Life going on as normal.
You hear it all the time... If only I'd waited... If only I'd gone... If only I hadn't... If only I had...
A fragment of a second can change a person's life - a family's life - forever.
Was not an If only day.
I didn't want to go to the mall today. I don't like the mall on a good day, but the day before Christmas Eve?
But I found out last night that my niece had requested something specific for Christmas and, though I'd already gotten her gift, I figured it would be better to get her what she wanted. So I grumbled my way through traffic and the parking lot and the crowds inside. I waited in line in the store and then trudged my way back out of the mall, to brave the mess again.
As I was approaching the crosswalk leading into the parking lot, I heard a woman behind me calling out to her son.
"Tyler! Stop! Now! Tyler, wait for me!"
I turned to see Tyler, about two-years-old, in a bright red jacket and blue jeans, running like mad toward me and the parking lot, giggling like crazy. His mother, looking frustrated, was chasing him, her arms full of bags.
Tyler and I both reached the curb and the crosswalk at the same time. There was an older man, sitting his car, waiting for us to cross. I waved to thank him and just as I was about to step into the walk, I caught a moving vehicle, to my left, in my peripheral vision.
In that minute sliver of time - in that fragment of a second - my mother's reflex kicked in and I grabbed for Tyler's hood with my right hand and, making contact with a handful of soft, quilted nylon, I yanked him back onto the curb. He landed on his little butt and squealed just as I felt the whoosh of air on my face from the large SUV as it barreled past, moving way too quickly for a parking lot on any day, let alone on a crazy-busy one.
Tyler's mother had dropped all her bags and reached us, and the man I later realized was Tyler's father sprinted past us, to catch up with the woman in the Escalade. The little guy's mother scooped him up with one arm and reached for me with the other, sandwiching the toddler, who had no idea what had nearly happened, between us.
I could see in her face, in that split second, every possibility... every Christmas without her precious little boy... every tear... every "If only."
My heart lurched into my throat and I could hardly speak.
She thanked me over and over and over. I assured her it was OK; it was just reflex, as I have a child of my own; I was just so glad he was OK and tragedy had been avoided.
I left that little family a few minutes later, after Tyler's dad came back to us and nearly shook my hand and arm right out of their sockets, thanking me, asking if there was anything they could do for me.
All I wanted to do was go home.
I wished them well and happy holidays and walked to my car. I turned the key in the ignition with a shaking hand... and then burst into tears.
And instead of If only, I thought, What if?
I didn't want to go to the mall today.
But in that minute sliver of time...
I so glad I did.