When something happens suddenly, one learns about oneself by the instantaneous decisions undertaken without consciousness.
The other day, as we were returning from an afternoon in northern London, I was preparing to get on an escalator with Owen inside a tube station. Suddenly I heard Lionel's fear cry from up the escalator. Immediately I started running up the steps. As I looked up I saw Lionel and Keith tumbling backwards, Keith's hat flying off. I had to get to them. Half-way up I realized that I had left Owen at the bottom in the middle of a busy tube station and I started trying to run down. Turns out it is nigh on impossible to go down an up escalator and then I slipped and fell. I turned quickly and saw that Keith and Lionel appeared to be upright so I stopped and urged Owen to climb on by himself. A man came up behind and assisted and then I fell off the end of the escalator because I was looking down and didn't realize it had come to an end. Finally we were all at the top, standing and whole.
My hands were shaking. The adrenalin had complelely overwhelmed me. All I had accomplished was getting myself banged up and stranding Owen but I could no more have stopped myself from leaping after Lionel than I could stop my heart beating.
When the man who escorted Owen up the escalator got to the top, he admonished me, "You really have to watch your footing on these." Um, yeah. Thanks.
What happened, I learned, is that Lionel lost his footing and started to fall. Keith instictively threw himself under as he was falling so that Lionel essentially landed on Keith's arm and shoulder. He had a small abrasion on his chin but that's all. Keith, however, had wrenched his shoulder and knee and had landed so hard on the steps that both of his knees bore the bloody imprint of the treads--this through a pair of heavy jeans.
We limped home, transforming into another parental mode: spin control. Keith said, "Boy, that wasn't very much fun. Let's not do that again!" and the boys laughed. Though we both felt somewhat traumatized we didn't want the boys to fixate on it and didn't want Lionel to feel guilty about it. We examined Keith's wounds in private and he sat in the bedroom icing his swollen knees out of sight.
Reflecting later, I imagined with horror what it must be like to be a parent in a war zone where your children are constantly in danger and exposed to violence and death. It's important to be grateful for the little things, but it's also important to be grateful for the very big things.