Warning: This story is not a pick-me-up kind of tale. It's sad and scary. But the title works.
We're all familiar with The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a fable wherein a shepherd boy gets bored and decides to alert the village that a wolf is approaching the flock, so they all come running to help save him and he's like, "Just kidding! There's no wolf! I just wanted to see what you'd do!" And everyone gets kind of grumbly because that's not a very funny joke, but the next time he cries wolf they all come running back anyway because what if it's real this time?! And, of course, it isn't real. He's just pulling their leg once again.
This continues until the townspeople get sick of having the wool pulled over their eyes and decide they'll just ignore the silly shepherd, which does not bode well for the shepherd when he sees an actual wolf approaching the flock. Naturally he cries out for help and...nobody comes.
As a fable, there are various morals offered, but it basically can be boiled down to this: liars don't get to choose when people believe them (and thus it's better to be known as being honest and truthful).
That story is important but peripheral background knowledge for the following story:
My family has a family group chat.
This was a surprising but welcome little institution to spring up out of the loneliness of the pandemic. We'd never had a family group chat before! And we really do feel much more connected to each other (if I may be so bold as to speak on behalf of everyone). It's nice.
But my sister Kelli—I tell you!—she is the most notorious butt-dialer on the planet!
She is forever accidentally mashing that "call" button. But someone usually picks up and starts talking to her, "Hello? Hello? Hello?" until she pulls her phone out and laughs about "hearing voices" again. She's often very surprised that she's initiated the call. Sometimes it's a bad time for her as well, so she'll just say "Whoops!" and hang up and everyone else will, too. Sometimes it's a good time to chat, so she just shows us what she's up to. Sometimes she hangs up and others of us stay on the line to chat without her.
This morning shortly after 8:00 my time (so 6:00 her time), my phone rang.
It was Kelli with another family group call.
I almost didn't pick up because I was trying to get Alexander out the door for a doctor's appointment, but I figured she could just talk to me while I was ushering him through the process of getting dressed/breakfast/out the door. So I clicked the button to accept the call and was shocked to find my sister hysterical on the other end of the line.
"Something has happened to Allen!" she cried, pounding her steering wheel. "I'm on my way to the ER and I'm stuck behind this stupid train!"
Her world was dark, red brake lights of the cars in front of her illuminating her face.
My world was full of sunshine and chirping birds and the pitter-patter (and/or stomp-stomp-stomping) or so many little freshly woken feet.
"What happened to Allen?"
"I don't know!" she wailed. "The hospital called me! It can't be good! The hospital he's at isn't in our insurance network and he knows that! So why would he be there unless he didn't choose to go there!? He would choose a hospital in our network. He's not stupid. What am I going to do?! Why won't this train move?!"
"Ugh, trains are the worst," I commiserated. "We got stuck behind a train for over five minutes one day. Benjamin frequently counts trains with over 200 cars at the train park. They go on forever. Why don't you take a few deep breaths with me? We'll get you to the hospital. You're sure you're going to the right one? Sitting still is a good time to shake your head out and make sure you're doing the right thing."
"I think so," she said. "I just can't imagine why he'd be at this hospital! And they wouldn't tell me what happened! I don't know if he's been in a car wreck or if he's had a heart attack or anything! I don't know if he's even alive! Oh! I can see the end of the train!"
She made it to the hospital as I was brushing my teeth and begging Alexander to get his shoes on.
"Masks required!" she moaned as she pulled into the parking lot. "I didn't grab my mask! I don't know if I have a mask! What if they won't let me in to see him? What if..."
"Kelli, breathe. You're at a hospital. They have masks. You just go inside and say why you're here and tell them you forgot your mask. I'm sure they'll give you one. They'll expect you to be in a panic. You'll be fine. The times I've been to the hospital recently they've made me take off my own mask and put on one of theirs, anyway, so I'm sure they'll have one for you to wear there. They had masks for patients with flu-like symptoms before the pandemic; it would be silly for them not to have a few extra masks now. You'll be fine going through those doors without a mask."
"I can't find my keys! I just had them!"
"They're there, I'm sure. You just put them down. Deep breaths."
And folks, it wasn't great news:
Allen got in a car wreck on the way home from work early this morning. He's pretty banged up: broken femur, broken foot, fractured ribs, cut up face. He's alive.
But let's just say he was unable to select which hospital he ended up at.
He's already been through one round of surgeries; he has weeks and weeks (months and months?) of recovery ahead of him.
And it stinks to be so far away and not know what to do to help, but I'm just grateful that we're a family that picks up. We're a big enough family spread out across such a wide stretch of geography that someone always (usually) manages to pick up.
Even when we're fully expecting it to just be a butt-dial, we pick up.
And if we don't pick up, we check in on the missed call.
Today I'm grateful for a family that picks up.
(To be fair, my mom also picked up this morning (and David, too, I think) but couldn't figure out how to unmute herself, which...I don't blame her for because I could hardly figure it out, myself. Usually when we pick up everyone can hear everyone else just fine, but this morning we were automatically muted...and that's never happened before? Anyway, she stayed on the line but wasn't able to speak, so I'm glad I found the unmute button!)