Real-life mysteries are for the birds.
Yet writers and producers make a killing [pun intended] on crime thrillers and psychological mystery movies and novels. Humans are drawn to the adventure of obscurity and uncertainty. I remember being in high school and craving bedtime, where I lay under the protective covers until the wee hours of the night feeding my insatiable appetite to be scared half out of my wits reading Steven King novels. We spend an insane amount of money to sit on the edge of our recliner seats--wide-eyed, heart-pumping—watching cryptic, suspenseful movies at theatres. But in real life, unless you’re a Navy Seal or a secret agent, most of us prefer predictability and reliability. We rely on answers and authenticity. Unknowns frighten us and are certain to paralyze us if we live with the expectation of certainties.
It is a gift — maybe even an art — to live in the present without worrying about what may or may not be looming around the corner, waiting to shake us to our core, bring us to our knees. My mom constantly reminds me to live like Uncle Bob, a decades-long recovering alcoholic and a faithful, beautiful human being. Sobriety was a daily choice for Uncle Bob. He knew he had to live in the present reality with certainty in knowing that every day is a new day, a fresh start. He did not envision sobriety a year, or 30 years, ahead. Years ago I watched Uncle Bob take his last earthly breath. He died peacefully, after a valiant battle with cancer, because he lived peacefully. His legacy is how he survived and thrived by taking one day at a time and not allowing the uncertainties of life overwhelm him and stop him from living.
We don’t have to look too far in either direction to see evidence of people around us living this way. This fall our family attended the funeral of a 16-year-old child, Caleigh, whom I taught in Sunday School and have kept in tight contact with through the years. Caleigh was 8 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We watched this child and her family live to their fullest potential every single moment of every day. They hungered for answers but knew that trying to unravel the mystery of the whys and hows of her illness would waste precious time. She fought hard. She also lit up any room she entered. There were Facebook posts of Caleigh in her last days, singing from her hospital bed. Her light shone regardless of how scared and sick and sad she felt.
In the same way, our community has watched 17- year-old Hunter Seifert and his family live in reality, and not the mystery, of his cancer diagnosis for 3 years. Hunter is a junior at Shiloh Christian. All three of his siblings attend Shiloh, and both of his parents are teachers at Shiloh. Hunter’s mom is our youngest daughter, Harper’s, fifth-grade teacher, and his dad teaches our two high schoolers. We pray daily for this boy’s healing. Our entire school watches this family show up, every day, living their reality. I have stood at the end of a hallway, watching through tears, as Hunter used crutches to walk to his classes because the chemotherapy drugs made his legs too weak to hold him. He shows up and will not allow the mystery of this illness to prevent him from living a substantive and purposeful life. I watch this family in awe. Each of these warrior kids and their families show us how to live in the present.
I mentioned our 10-year-old daughter, Harper. Doctors have called her “a mystery” after a battery of clear and normal brain scans and tests. Let me begin with the punchline: She is fine.
On Aug. 30, 2018, hundreds of people boarded a Delta airplane in Bismarck for a 5 a.m. departure. Twenty minutes into the short, quiet, dark flight to Minneapolis, I could feel Harper’s body go rigid and stretch out. She was lying across my lap, asleep. Seconds later, she began to shake. She was in a full-blown, first-time-ever seizure, and I was in a full-blown panic. I screamed for help. My husband, Drew, and our two other children, Quinn and Patrick, were scattered about the plane. I could hear Drew calling out through the darkness for medical help while I held her. Passengers prayed out loud. A Bismarck pediatrician, Dr. Kathy Anderson, happened to be traveling with her three children and assisted immediately. When Harper started turning blue and was unresponsive—unbeknownst to us at the time, but apparently not an unnatural occurrence during a seizure--this hero mom breathed in Harper’s mouth to jumpstart her body. We were trapped in a metal tube 30,000 feet in the air. It was, by far, the most terrifying experience of our lives as parents.
The Delta crew and passengers remained calm and supportive. The pilots got the go-ahead to make an emergency landing, or at least a quick one, without alarm or panic. The flight attendants were so caring and kind. They kept the entire cabin of passengers composed. The Delta crew was unbelievable, and we will never forget them. The pilots landed the plane safely and the emergency EMT and fire rescue were waiting to assist on the ground. By the time the plane landed, Harper was alert and scared. She insisted on walking off the plane, with our assistance, to the EMTs waiting for her. We spent the morning and early afternoon in the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, where she was examined by three different doctors. Hours later, they cleared her to continue with our travels, which seemed utterly abnormal and mystifying to us. I preferred to bubble wrap her and drive seven hours back to our home in Bismarck. Instead, we shouldered on and had a memorable, family-filled weekend visiting and touring Penn State.
Rarely do we pray for no answers, right? Humans want solutions. We yearn to know the whys and the hows. I desperately prayed for no answers, because the answers seemed too much to bear.
Back in Bismarck Harper bravely withstood a brain MRI with contrast and an EEG, among other neurological testing. All tests indicate that our Harper has a normal and healthy brain. She has had no further seizures or scares since that Aug. 30, 2018, 5 a.m. flight. She slept on our bedroom floor for months. She’s afraid of having another seizure in her sleep and being alone. And, I can’t blame her. I have only just recently slept through an entire night, without getting up to check on her and pray over her. We are slowly transitioning her back to her bedroom, one day/sleep at a time.
The doctors have called Harper a “mystery.” But what is very clear and evident is the love and protection and prayers we felt by the Delta flight crew, the passenger pediatrician [also known as my new best friend], and the passengers on-board flight No. 1870. We will never forget how these kind and calm professionals helped our baby girl and our family. It’s also not a mystery to see the evidence of how good and kind people are in times of hardship.
I have long since outgrown my enthusiasm for mysterious novels. I awake every day choosing to live, faithfully, moment by moment, like Uncle Bob, Caleigh, Hunter and their families do, to not look too far into the unknowns of tomorrow, but to show up for this life and to resolve to be my best, one day at a time.
Editor’s note: Story was written by Kathleen Wrigley and originally published in the February/March 2019 issue of "On The Minds of Moms". Forum Communications Company is re-publishing these stories as On the Minds of Moms staff members develop a new online community.