At 4:00 PM on July 28, 2002, the sun was still high, the air warm and the smell of summer was strong. I was sitting on my porch putting on my mountain biking shoes, preparing for a gentle single-track ride that began close to our house. I had one shoe on when the phone rang.
Normally, we would have ignored the phone and just gone on the ride. But that day was different. I paused and asked my husband to answer the phone. As he answered the phone, I sat there, doing nothing and staring at my shoes. In a few seconds, he came to the door with the phone. "It's a woman calling from New Zealand," he said. The feeling I had went from bad to almost panic as I took the phone because there was only one person I knew in New Zealand: my son attending a mogul ski camp.
I answered, "Hi, this is Fran." Then I heard, "This is Nancy. There's been an accident. I don't know very much but Kevin is on a helicopter right now on his way to a hospital (which was a couple of hours away)." I knew he was seriously injured. This was the call I had consciously hoped not to receive every day for the past 24 years since the birth of my son.
Nancy informed me that Kevin had suffered a head injury. She didn't know much because he was on a helicopter. He was unconscious. It was serious. She didn’t even know if he was alive. I sat on the porch, one shoe on and one shoe off, as I listened to Nancy telling me everything she did know. She said she'd call as soon as she had any information. I hung up the phone.
I just sat on the porch, one shoe on and one shoe off. There must be points in the universe that are virtually empty – of space, of time. There was nothing except what Nancy said – a critical threat, a head injury, unconscious, a helicopter. I couldn’t jump in the car and rush to the hospital. There was no one I could call. I couldn’t fill time with doing something else, waiting. After a few minutes of near nothingness, my husband told me to take off my shoe and come inside, so I did.
As the evening wore on, we received several phone calls. Each time, there were additional snippets of news, but always vague and incomplete. Nancy tried so hard to get information on how it had happened but my only concern was where is Kevin. Finally, I learned he was at a university hospital in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. Now I knew where I had to go.
Several years earlier (in the 90's), while a cadet at the Air Force Academy, Kevin had gone skiing and had a crash that required being transported from the ski resort back to the Air Force Academy by ambulance. Immediately after the crash, I received a call from his commanding officer telling me that Kevin had been in an accident. This was long before you could get on the internet to book whatever flight you wanted. Yet, I managed to get packed, book a flight and get on a flight out of San Jose while he was still en route. When I stopped in Phoenix for a layover, I received a call that he was at the Academy hospital and doing well. He had told his commanding officer to tell me that I did not need to come to Colorado. My response was, "well, that's too late because I’m halfway there now."
When I arrived, I went directly to the hospital and saw my son's smiling face and he said, "You didn't need to come out. But I'm glad you're here." I was glad I was there too. I was glad I could see his smiling face for myself and confirm for myself that he was indeed all right. After I confirmed he was fine, only then did I ask him how it happened.
I KNEW this time it was different. And it was. And life changed forever.
TODAY'S HOW TO
The hardest part about learning that my son was injured was waiting for information about when and where I needed to go. Although my friend Nancy was trying hard to find out what had happened, it didn't matter. As I began preparing for the journey, those closest to me wanted to know what had happened, some pondering the how and why. I had no answers to those questions. And the answers didn’t matter. I only had to get to New Zealand. I had to maintain that singular thought because there was nothing else in the void. So began a journey much, much longer than a flight to Dunedin, New Zealand -- one step at a time. I stopped pondering questions for which I knew there were no answers. I stopped asking questions, the answers to which didn’t move me forward. I knew I could take one step, then another, when the time came. So that’s what I did: one step at a time.