Nearly a year ago, Rachel Raney showed me the perils facing pedestrians around Trinity Park, Duke University’s East Campus and Durham School of the Arts.
She worried about motorists speeding through crosswalk zones, endangering adults and children alike trying to make safe crossings.
She was concerned not just about her son, Leo Bortiri, who loved to ride his bicycle around the neighborhood, but also about the children of other parents.
I wasn’t a father yet that day in December 2012.
Still, I could sympathize with a parent trying to make the surroundings safer for their child.
The horrible irony, though, is that nothing could spare Leo from a tragic random accident thousands of miles from home.
He was traveling with his parents, Raney and her husband Esteban Bortiri, in Argentina on Dec. 19, 2013, when he fell and struck his head on some rocks.
Just like that, the smiling 7-year-old adventurer who hiked Mt. Tronador in the Andes and crossed the Alerce Glacier was gone. A little boy, a rising third grader at Watts Montessori Magnet School who loved soccer, suddenly taken from loving parents and from a community that adored him.
I’m a father now, to a little boy, and word of Leo’s death didn’t come with the cushion of second-hand sympathy at a distance. It struck me right in the gut.
I wanted to dress John Michael in a suit of bubble wrap that we’d just keep adding to over the years.
We’re getting to the point where our home needs full baby-proofing, but the grim truth is that all the rounded corners, all the wall-mounting kits, all the special latches can’t save any of us from freak accidents.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t bother taking precautions. Really, it just drives home the point that you shouldn’t borrow trouble when it may come no matter what.
But it also demonstrates that for all the work we do to make our kids safe, sometimes it all comes down to luck – good or bad.
I remember plenty of close calls from my own childhood and young adulthood – nearly getting churned in the propeller of a houseboat in Lake Lanier, narrowly escaping a collapsing tunnel dug out of soft Florida sand, getting stuck under inner tube riders on a ride at Walt Disney World’s River Country, hydroplaning in circles through a busy intersection on Orlando’s Colonial Drive.
I survived those incidents through good fortune. Maybe providence.
It’s a struggle, though, trying to come to grips with the concept that any divine entity’s plan would call for my survival while extinguishing the shining light of a little boy like Leo Bortiri.
It’s just beyond me.
Wes Platt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Follow on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.