Today call me lucky, a fact I’ve been giving renewed thought to since my routine dental checkup last Thursday.
There I lay, my dentist’s gloved hands probing what had to be my larynx as he talked about The Black Swan (the theory, not the movie).
He suggested that our lives aren’t what we plan, but instead a series of unexpected events continually redirecting our paths in ways we can’t foresee. I listened and made exaggerated eyebrow gestures by way of response. I swallowed my spit and wondered why dentists ask questions with their fingers in our mouths.
“Saawgsoogg,” I gurgled. And my dentist smiled.
The following Saturday, I sat in my sister Nancy’s backyard talking with Jason Lavin of Goldencom.com, a man who’s been friends with my brother-in-law Randy for decades. I couldn’t wait to thank both men for the part they played in launching this blog. Still, it’s the chain of unexpected events in Jason’s life that had me thinking about luck and The Black Swan.
In the spring of 2010, Jason’s wife went to a local mall with a group of friends and their children. We who are parents know how quickly time moves, how easily love slips from our fingers. The youngest Lavin child momentarily escaped his mother, making his way to the base of a nearby escalator with the usual rubber railings running in a loop up the handles on each side.
Jimmy stood on the outside of the escalator, placed both hands on the sticky rubber handle, then found his hands moving upward. As his feet left the floor he held on, afraid of falling. He was dragged up the outside of the escalator, his body dangling along the wall. Jimmy Lavin was four years old.
As he reached the top of the escalator some thirty feet above the first floor, Jimmy hit the second-story wall and began his downward plummet, head first. It was at this moment that a young man named Antonio Jones stepped under Jimmy’s path and caught the child by his feet as his head was about to meet the ground.
Following the incident, Antonio shied away from public praise, from being labeled the hero who’d saved Jimmy’s life. But Jason persisted in digging into his story and discovered that Antonio had never met his father; that his mother, who had ten other children, had been incarcerated when Antonio was fourteen.
Raised by an overwhelmed grandmother in inner-city Chicago, the teenaged Antonio had gotten involved in drugs and been arrested. At the age of 21, he’d fled parole and come to California.
Jimmy Lavin’s hero was a fugitive from the state of Illinois.
Jason couldn’t help looking at his own three children when considering Antonio, a kid whose luck had run in the opposite direction. Do we make our own choices? Certainly. But the options we perceive to be available to us aren’t always equal.
Regardless of our politics or our thoughts about the criminal justice system, perhaps we can agree life isn’t fair; that good and bad aren’t doled out equally in this world. Antonio had a rough start and Jason was determined to shift his tide of fortune.
They were, in different ways, each other’s Black Swans.
Jason introduced Antonio to his friends and family who wrote letters on behalf of a young man who wanted very much to be good. Jason counseled and mentored Antonio, helping him take the first step toward changing his own life. And on September 20th, five months after he “caught Jimmy from the sky,” Antonio Jones surrendered to investigators from the state of Illinois.
Jason flew to Chicago with Antonio, stood by his side handing authorities a book filled with testimonies from friends and family of the Lavins who wanted to express their support for Antonio’s decision to take responsibility for the wrongs of his past while beginning the rights of his future.
In the wake of these endorsements, Antonio’s good behavior and the measured judgment of the parole board, Antonio served two months of what could’ve been a two-year sentence. He then enrolled in Taller San Jose, a program that walks young people out of poverty by offering the hope of a productive and self-reliant future.
Jason Lavin and Antonio Jones give their story up to God, believing He had a hand in every decision – right and wrong – that placed one man below one child to avert unimaginable tragedy.
I, myself, give it up to good. I think people who look for good in others can find it there and in themselves, no matter how naïve that belief may seem to be.
I watched Jimmy Lavin on Saturday night. He wore his first-ever soccer jersey, arriving fresh from a day on the fields. I saw his blue eyes twinkle as he rolled striped and solid balls around Randy and Nancy’s pool table. I smiled as he and his tow-headed brother warmed up to a houseful of other lucky kids whirling around them.
And when Jimmy ran to Jason, tugging on his father’s arm in excitement, I asked Jimmy if he liked playing soccer. He nodded sincerely and opened his eyes wide. “I scored ONE goal in TWO games,” he said with a shy smile, before heading back to join the other children.
Can anyone give proper thanks for being so very lucky? Jason, his wife and children, their extended family and friends, are all certainly trying.
Will keep closing my eyes and taking deep breaths as I greet the Black Swans in this life. I will keep looking for the best in others in the small hope they’ll see something worthy in me.
And I will always, always keep giving it up to good.