Suddenly we heard rapid honking, and as we rounded the next curve saw the reason: just ahead of us a tree had fallen across the roadway, and the car approaching from the other direction, which had stopped right at the fallen tree, was honking to warn oncoming cards.
Even though Tim was at the wheel, my maternal instincts inevitably took over and I started issuing orders. “Pull into reverse and back into that driveway we just passed,” I told him. Our section of town is laced with long, winding roads, and I was already thinking about the slightly complicated yet efficient detour that would take us home fastest once we turned around. I reached for my phone to call the police dispatcher in order to report the fallen tree and summon the DPW. I tried to remember whether I had any brightly colored blankets or clothing in the car that we could drape over the tree to alert other drivers until the DPW arrived to move it out of the roadway.
But at the same time I was reaching for my phone, Tim was parking the car and unbuckling his seat belt. “Mom, I think that guy and I can just move the tree,” he said, and took off at a jog down the road, to where the driver of the other car and his passenger were already standing.
I followed him. “That tree just barely missed us!” the driver exclaimed. “We were driving straight toward it when it fell!” I could tell he was shaken and shocked. But when the four of us all stood on the same side of the trunk and lifted it together, we were able to pivot it ninety degrees until it lay parallel to the road rather than across it. We all thanked each other, and I urged the other driver to be extra careful until his mild state of shock passed.
“I’m surprised it was light enough for us to lift,” I commented to Tim as we walked back to our car.
“It was light because it was rotten,” Tim said. “Which is also why it fell.”
Later I found myself thinking about the fact that the very same weekend, I had passed along that same stretch of roadway four other times: once running, once biking, once driving with just my husband, and once driving with my husband and both kids. That tree could have fallen on me, or on us, any one of those times. But it didn’t. I had somehow once again inexplicably been spared catastrophe.
Yet that wasn’t what I was thinking about as Tim and I continued our drive home. Instead, I was replaying that moment after I instructed Tim to back into the nearest driveway and turn around. Embarrassment, then enlightenment, then pride all hit me as I realized that at the very same moment that my thoughts were focused on calling the police, summoning the DPW and finding the best detour to get ourselves home, Tim was already moving into action to solve the problem.
He wasn’t thinking about how to escape the situation and whom to call for help. No, that was me. He was jogging toward the hazard to move it out of the way of the next oncoming driver. Tim, I recognized at that moment, is probably a better person than I am. Or if “better” is too general a term, then at least apparently a more selfless and altruistic one. Also more courageous and confident: it didn’t occur to me that I could lift a full-grown tree out of a roadway, but Tim correctly assessed that with four of us on the job, our odds of success were good.
I think every parent hopes that his or her child will be a better person than he or she is, when it comes to strength of character. I don’t have to hope; I witnessed it. He’s a courageous, helpful, determined person, or at least he proved to be in that singular moment. And even if it was a little embarrassing for me to be faced so blatantly with my own shortcomings, simultaneous with the recognition of my flaws was evidence of my son’s character. Not proof that he will always do the right thing at the right moment, perhaps, but at least a suggestion that the right instincts are present.
Coming just a week before his seventeenth birthday, I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.