The dark side of serendipity lies just beneath the surface of our daily lives.
We know it's there. We know that bad luck, catastrophically bad luck, always lurks and could emerge at any time. It's the flip side of the serendipity we usually think about. Wrong place, wrong time.
Most of us are able to do the only sane thing you can do. We put it in a box deep in the furthest recesses of our minds because of the witheringly slim chance that this kind of fate will befall us or our loved ones. It's really the only way to go through life without going mad. Seeing impending danger at every footfall is its own kind of prison.
And yet, sometimes it happens, and it's unimaginable and it's crushing and you wonder how you can go on.
There are people in Farmingdale — and all over Long Island — going through that now. The crash Thursday in Orange County of one of six buses taking Farmingdale High School students to marching band camp ended up taking the lives of two popular mentors, the beloved band director and a retired teacher who was a regular band chaperone. Five students were critically injured. Dozens more were hurt. All, in the moment, were panicked. And that fright and anxiety rippled out to friends and families as the news traveled.
Once the facts are confirmed, the mind wanders. Whether your loved ones were among the victims or escaped harm, you race through the possibilities. What if they had been on another bus? What if they had been in a different seat? What if I hadn't given them permission to go?
In other scenarios with other factors, you wonder what would have happened if they had left five minutes later, or earlier. You wonder what would have happened if they had taken a different route, or had a different driver, or had taken the train instead of the bus or the car instead of the train or if you had driven them yourself or if you had never let them go.
We all have been there at one time or another.
My own daughters boarded many a band bus, sports bus, chorus bus, regular morning and afternoon school bus — not to mention the train and plane trips that had nothing to do with school, the strolls on city and suburban sidewalks with cars whizzing past, the strolls and bicycle rides on streets with no sidewalks, the meals eaten and coffees sipped at tables in front of plate-glass windows. When all of us were kids, we all did the same.
And nothing happened. Unless it did.
And when it happens, no doubt it makes it that much harder to trust again, that much harder to put that devil of doubt back into that corner of your mind. But we really have no choice. These kinds of things are the worst ways to learn the lesson that nothing is guaranteed. They are the most heartbreaking reminders that we must be grateful for the time we have and the people we love. They are the awful proof that we are tied so tightly to so many others we care for, look up to, learn from, and model ourselves on, and that we should never take that for granted.
And they are part of the price we sometimes pay for living lives brimming with possibility. Because when you go through this world ready to embrace its infinite variety, you do so with the understanding that those possibilities really do have no limits, for better and sometimes for worse.
We need to say it: There but for the whims of fate.
We need to understand it in all of its connotations. Then we need to forget it.
And give those we love a hug, and let them go.
Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.