The other day I was descending a stairwell at the mall which, I admit, doesn't sound like a very exciting event. At least not at first. I got almost to the bottom, realized that I must have missed the store entrance, and started heading back up.
While I was climbing, I saw a guy with a baby coming down the stairs carrying a bunch of crap. As I moved aside so he'd have room to pass, I saw him stumble as he rounded the corner. Once I realized he was losing his balance I jumped up the steps to grab one of his shopping bags that was going to fall.
But somehow ended up with his baby instead.
I don't know exactly how it happened. As I reached for the bag, I must have saw the baby was slipping and changed my target. The guy still had a half-hold on his kid, but who knows if he would have been able to keep from dropping it down the stairs if I hadn't been there.
After I made sure that the guy had a grip on his kid again, I remarked how surprising it was that the baby didn't make a sound. Not a peep. Didn't cry. Didn't yell. It just had that kind of dazed look that babies get.
And then the young father burst into tears.
Not being a very emotional person myself, these kind of situations are incredibly awkward for me.
I picked up the shopping bag that had fallen, got it back into his fingers, then put my hand on his shoulder and told him that his baby was fine and that everything was okay. I then joked about how much easier it would be if they had more elevators in these crazy places (hoping that next time he might go looking for one before bouncing down the stairs carrying a baby with his hands full like that). He nodded, which was more than thanks enough for me, so I started climbing again.
But slowly, so I could see if he was able to carry on down the stairs after such a nasty scare.
He was, and so I went on about my business and didn't give it much thought...
...until I was driving the two-and-a-half hours back home this afternoon, at which point I found it difficult to think of much else.
What if I hadn't gone back up the stairs? What if I hadn't been paying attention? What if I wasn't fast enough? What if I had opted for a parking spot somewhere else and never ended up in that stairwell in the first place? What if? What if? What if?
I have little doubt that the baby could have been seriously hurt. Perhaps even permanently hurt. Perhaps worse.
If I hadn't been there, the kid's life could have been changed completely. And once I started thinking about that, my mind went racing with all kinds of strange crap. What if the kid grows up to be somebody famous? What if it grows up to cure cancer? What if it grows up to be a homicidal maniac? What if? What if? What if?
Fate is just such a crazy damn thing.
Which is why I'm going to try and not think about it.
And I really hope that poor guy is able to not think about it too. I can't fathom the kind of mental torture going on in his head the rest of that day.