Is it a good thing or a bad thing? You can look at this from a lot of angles, but for today, I’m going to define heart-stopping moments as those where something affects you to the point where you feel like you could die. Based on this very loose definition, these could qualify as good or bad moments.
As usual, I’m going to throw a couple of different time-frames at you. I have experienced vastly different heart-stopping moments throughout my life, and they’ve often been a result of what I’m up to at that time in my life.
When I was a kid
I had two brothers when I was growing up. They both had turns at living lives that somewhat disappointed my parents, and at one point, both of them smoked cigarettes. I don’t know what it was about cigarettes, but I loved the smell and just how cool people looked when they smoked. When I was 7, my friend Jason and I decided that it was time we started smoking. I also decided that it would be a good idea to steal my brother’s cigarettes. Since my brother, who was more than 10 years older than me, was convinced that my parents didn’t know he was smoking (they did), he always hid them in his bookshelf in his room (they knew that too). Having watched him hide them many times, I knew where to look and within seconds, we were out of his room with a pack of “Green Death” (Export A’s) and a lighter. We jumped on our bikes – it was about 3:00 PM on a hot summer afternoon. We rode over to thick forest near our houses, where we knew other super-cool kids went to smoke. We had never tried this before, and it took us a while to figure out that you can’t just light the end of the cigarette. You have to suck in the smoke – aaaaaand that’s when I got sick. Really, really sick. For some reason, I persevered and stuck it out – and for the next three or four hours, we smoked through the remainder of the pack of cigarettes. Being 7 at the time, planning and forward thinking wasn’t really my strong suit, and so when we were done, we rode back home and my friend and I parted ways. As I put away my bike, I realized that I had no cigarettes to put back onto my brother’s bookshelf. But the sinking feeling that accompanied that realization paled in comparison to the feeling I got when I stepped inside and my mom sniffed the air and gave me that look. That’s when my heart stopped.
When I was an adult
Certainly one of the most memorable moments where it felt as though my heart had stopped is the moment I had heard that my brother had been killed. Not only did it feel like my heart stopped – it felt as though time stood still. It actually felt as though everything went grey for a few moments and time was debating whether it afford to go on. Of course, as with any traumatic moment, time marches on mercilessly – in complete disregard toward your needs, your wants and your wishes.
Another adult heart-stopper was the moment that our year and a half of wedding planning came to fruition and I saw my wife, Aimie, coming down the aisle at the church. Aimie’s family does things steeped in tradition and I was not allowed to see her on our wedding day until she came down the aisle. I hadn’t seen her wedding dress yet, and so I had only my imagination to work with until that moment. The emotions that coursed through my mind, and my very veins, the moment I saw her are impossible to describe. It was the culmination of much time and effort, and there was a stark finality to it and almost a touch of sadness that the anticipation was over. Washing over any sadness was an incredible mish-mash of joy, excitement, love, hope, commitment, and a bunch of other things that words simply can’t describe.
When I was a parent
Two moments stand out very clearly. The first, and it has been replicated twice with each of our successive children, was when I first met our baby. I remember the breathless anticipation during the final moments of my wife’s labor where I was tormented with not knowing whether the baby would be normal and healthy and have 10 fingers and 10 toes, whether it was a boy or a girl, whether my wife would be OK during and after this, whether I’d be competent as a daddy… the wheels were spinning out of control and I felt dizzy at that time. When Abigail finally popped out, and I saw she was OK, and I heard her cry for the first time, and when she looked at me through those eyes that she was using for the very first time and stopped crying, my heart stopped. It was a moment that mere sentences can’t even begin to touch. This feeling came along again, 4 years later with Amalie and 3 years after that with Andon. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience these heart-stopping moments three times, and they have forever altered my outlook on this short lease on life that I have.
The next moment came when Abigail, our first, was about 3 years old. She was a quiet kid for a lot of the time, and when you have a relatively low-maintenance child, you are often lulled into complacence, thinking that everything is fine. One day, Abigail had been quiet and upstairs, playing by herself in her room as she often did. After an hour or so, Aimie decided to go upstairs to check on her. The scream I heard next was only the first of a series of heart-stopping moments on this day. I knew immediately that something was wrong. I ran upstairs – Aimie’s face was covered in tears and her make-up was running down her cheeks – she yelled at me, clearly panicking: “Abigail is gone!” That was when my heart stopped again. I said, she can’t have gone far. We yelled her name out endlessly, running through every room upstairs. Next we covered the main floor, the closets, the crawlspaces, the lockers in the back entrance, the garage and finally made our way to the basement. There was no sound, no response, just a heavy, heavy silence. And the silence screamed at us much louder than any kid in trouble could have screamed. It was deafening because it had us asking more questions and turning over more and more awful possibilities by the second. We had now determined that Abigail was not in the house. We ran outside, Aimie to the back yard, me to the front – there was no sign of Abigail and she did not answer to our calls. We were both crying uncontrollably at this point, and true fear and panic had set in and made itself a comfortable nest. I got into my car, and peeled out of the driveway – we live in a very small community with only about 60 houses in the immediate area – I flew through the surrounding blocks, with my window down, calling her name and asking anyone I saw if they had seen a little girl fitting her description. No one had. I could barely see through my tears, and being the most powerful organ in my body, my mind took over – it showed me visions of horrifying possibilities as to what may have already happened to her. I couldn’t help but think we hadn’t heard her for over an hour – how far she might be away and in what kind of person’s vehicle she might be. These are breath-taking thoughts, but in today’s world, they are real possibilities and I wanted to blame myself for what may have already happened to her. It felt like my heart had stopped after each of those possibilities had played out in my mind. After driving around for over 15 minutes, which seemed to take hours upon hours, my cell phone rang. My heart stopped yet again. It was my wife. She didn’t sound unhappy, which confused me. She told me that she had found Abigail, and that she was OK. Our little princess had made a nest in our walk-in closet, and being wrapped up in 2 warm and cozy quilts, had fallen asleep and obviously not heard us yelling for her. The final time my heart stopped on that day was when I ran into the house and grabbed Abigail and held her tight – to which she said, “Daddy, why are you crying? Are you mad at me?” I’m still trying to decide if my heart stopped or just melted at that moment.
Heart-stoppers – good or bad, they tend to leave a lasting impression. How many of yours can you remember?
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