Everything else about the day was perfect. Sunny and breezy Sunday. All our church members, after having a blessed and spirited service, were gathered on the field of a local parochial school for a little grudge match of flag football between the youth group (which for some reason was expanded to singles up to 35 years old) and the so-called ‘old timers’, of which I have now been identified.
I had just proved my defensive prowess by knocking down a pass near the end zone and was being congratulated by my teammates when I heard my wife yelling my name, followed by my son’s name. Both carried the unmistakable tone that accompanies a mother’s fear.
I turned toward where I saw a small crowd gathering about 100 yards away behind the backstop of the baseball field adjoining the football area. There was a small figure in a white shirt on the ground behind the tall fence. I instantly knew who was lying there. And I ran.
The first fence was connected to the backstop and I hurdled it like I was a pole vaulter without a pole. The second one was right next to it, but I don’t remember hitting the ground to regain my standing and jump over it to get to my son. I landed next to him, and knelt to hold him, as he huddled in a gasping little ball of pain, holding a left forearm that was bent in the shape of a small sickle.
“Dad, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
I hesitate to continue describing the scene, either because I don’t want to exaggerate the seriousness, or that I don’t want to acknowledge how awful the moment was despite its eventual resolution. Yes, it was a broken arm, and yes, he climbed the fence in an attempt to follow his friends to another area of the park where a basketball game was forming. Boys will be boys, right? And the pain and agony he felt, even as he cried no tears and made the onlookers marvel at his fortitude as he stated with an honest incredulousness, “I can’t believe I broke my arm!”, was simply an unforgettable lesson in not following the crowd, in the consequences of being a little too ready to think you are indestructible as a teenaged boy with dreams of NFL stardom compacted into a 95 pound frame. Right? That’s what he’ll take from that moment.
Or will he remember his dad propping him up, trying desperately not to focus on the hideous curve of his arm, hand cocked at an impossible angle from where he broke his fall, talking to him, telling him it would be ok, as if words could enter his nervous system and block the signals of pain radiating from the broken bones into his whole body. He of course was the stronger one at that point, as his father was similarly stunned that he did not fall apart. Why I would be surprised, I’m not sure. He has become the consummate observer of himself, able to take what others see as eccentric traits and simply accepting that it’s part of who he is. So after I reassured him that I was not going to punish him at this moment of supposed failure and bad judgement, he simply turned to dealing with the pain and accepting the task at hand. If only I was able to respond to crisis with such maturity at that age.
We made it through the ambulance ride — thankfully supplied when an onlooker called 911 and got paramedics to come, thus avoiding what could have been a long emergency room wait — and my son kept his great attitude all the way through through the painful resetting of the bone and casting, doing everything a young boy could do to not fall apart with stress and anxiety. His parents, slightly less relaxed, both also handled the situation as best we could. 7 hours later a very sore, tired, but repaired young man arrived home and began his 6 week recovery period sans P.E, Taekwondo, and all the other activities that he lives for, that he was engaged in right before his tumble from the heights of the backstop fence.
No matter how he remembers this traumatic experience, what seems to jump out at me (please, there was no pun intended there, as it would be the most extreme of bad choices) is the fact that I did the same thing he did – leaped the fence – in order to get to him. That which injured him required me to repeat it. Now of course I could have looked, seen an opening a few yards away, and ran to him that way with only a few seconds more added to my arrival — the same gate that he should have taken in order to avoid his unpleasant descent. But just as he did, I saw that the goal was right in front of me, and I took the most direct route available.
My friends have now made my leap and the accompanying event the stuff of local church legend. They say I barely touched the floor between the first and second fences separating me from the area where my son had fallen. I don’t remember the actual motion of jumping. I only remember starting to run, a flash of an obstacle, and then holding my son in my arms. The obstacle is not even a memory compared to the goal that I had to reach.
Yes, there is a moral to the story. Not one of a father’s protective instinct or a boy’s lesson in curtailing his rambunctiousness. No, what I realized is that sometimes to rescue someone, we have to go over the same fence that knocked them down. To throw caution to the wind and dive over the same obstacle that could take you down just as it did the original victim.
Isn’t that what Jesus did?
He could have stayed on the other side when we tried to climb the fence of trusting in our own ability, of self righteousness and I-don’t-need-you-edness. He could have either left us to writhe in the pain of our sin when we fell, predictably, from our high perch of pride, or taken the long way around, safely ensconced in His royal authority and untouched by the danger of the experience that we failed to overcome.
No. He jumped the same fence. The One that didn’t need to make the leap made the leap anyway, right into a messy, unpredictable and dangerous humanity. And survived. Not only survived, but made the jump seem so easy that we realize only love could have given Him the power to make such a leap. And just as my son begged for forgiveness, cradling a useless mass of bone and flesh that no longer could support him, our Rescuer comes along side and says, “I forgave you before you ever fell.”
No, I’m no Messiah archetype. But I’m glad that in a moment of great anxiety and trauma, again I’m reminded of who can handle every leap and crashing fall we take. My son’s arm will take a few weeks to heal. My heart, however, is a little more whole already, thanks to the One that heals where x-rays cannot penetrate and casts are unnecessary. The place of trust is strengthening, and we’ll take our next climb knowing He’s there to catch us both, father and son.
Unto the hills,