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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Looking Backwards, Literally!


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Over the years, the number of items that I was forever separated from because I mindlessly left them on buses or trains, or in public bathrooms, banks, stores, theaters, etc., would be enough to fill up a substantial Lost and Found storage room. And that only describes the items that were not returned.

I’m not including the stuff I left behind while visiting friends and relatives, or places that I could easily retrieve them from.   Like the shops and stores in my neighborhood. Not only do they know me and hold on to what I leave behind, but the cashiers who are physically agile and not too busy actually take the trouble to come running out of the store to tell me that I left my groceries, keys, cell phone, sunglasses or umbrella on the counter!  Once I had actually crossed the store’s threshold and was on the sidewalk balancing my bags of groceries when I realized I had left the baby in his stroller near the store window.

(For that reason alone it pays to shop at the Mom and Pop stores, even though their merchandise may cost a bit more than the huge retail outlets and discount stores.  The savings you accumulate by having the items you left behind handed back to you may supersede the bargains being offered.)

One can argue that forgetting something on a regular basis is a sign of advancing age and it’s time to for a neurological evaluation, but based on the number of young people who need to replace a lost smart phone (too bad it’s not smart enough to warn its owner that that they have become separated – or is there an app for that too?), I safely can say that losing “stuff” cuts across the generations.

Since it was annoying to have to replace the electronics and hats/glove/jackets and various sadly-missed items, I trained myself to get into the habit of looking behind me before I exit somewhere. Now, when I get up from my seat on public transportation or in a public place, I make it my business to turn around and look at the seat I just vacated to make sure anything I may have taken out of my purse, or set aside on the seat or put down on the floor was not left behind.

That action has paid off so many times.  I have turned around and seen an umbrella or gym bag, or a new purchase.  Not too long ago I saw my can’t-live-without-it cell phone occupying my vacant seat.  I had taken it out while retrieving my train ticket to give to the conductor and had absent-mindedly set it beside me, rather than putting it back into my purse. Even though it is an old-fashioned “dumb” phone, it is my means of communication.

But on a serious note, the most important reason to make it an automatic reflex to look behind you is because failing to do so can result in tragedy of the worst kind.  The death of a human being – especially a child.

Items are replaceable, children are not.  Everyone who drives a car, whether they currently have young children or not, should always look in the back seat before getting out. The reason I include non-parents as well as mothers and fathers is because there is the possibility that a grandparent, neighbor or friend, might do a parent a favor and drive their young child to where they are supposed to be, like play group or pre-school.

Since doing so is not a daily occurrence, not part of the driver’s routine, and she (or he) might be so pre-occupied with the dizzying details of her own day, that the tiny passenger is simply forgotten about.

While the scenario seems very unlikely, it can and does happen – often with extremely tragic results. One only needs to read the local newspapers in cities and towns across Canada and the U.S. to become sickeningly aware of horrific stories of young children left behind in over heated cars or dangerously freezing ones.  It takes just a few short hours for a child to be seriously harmed in an unheated car in the winter or in a stifling one in the summer.

No one likes to think that they could be so careless and oblivious, but the fact is, you can do something right 1,000 times, and still make a deadly mistake.  The most meticulous and experienced surgeon, pilot or cook can mess up doing something that is pretty much second nature to him. Mistakes happen. People forget.

We need to get over the psychological hurdle of thinking, “There is no way this could happen to me, I would never forget that there is a baby in the car.”

This smugness can be deadly.

People buy lottery tickets even though they know the odds are one in perhaps 50 million that they will win the big jackpot. But since that nonetheless is a possibility, they buy a ticket.  They reason that if it can happen to some stranger, “it can happen to me too.”

We are all candidates for that “incredible long shot,” either good or horrific.

I knew a family who experienced both months apart:  The parents won a considerable amount of money in a state lottery, and lost a son in a freak car accident – somehow on a clear day while driving as usual, the son lost control of the car and hit a cement highway divider.

Now and then, there is a news item of a parent or guest backing out of a driveway and running over a toddler or young child – too short to be seen in the rearview mirror, who, unbeknownst to anyone has run out of the house or yard and is behind the moving vehicle.  Often marriages are destroyed by the ensuing grief and guilt from this preventable tragedy.

Before backing out, the driver or passenger should walk behind the car/truck and look up and down the sidewalk to see if there are any children, bicyclists or distracted adults approaching. (Distracted adults are those looking down or sideways instead of ahead of them as they text or talk on the phone.) If the path is clear, the driver should back up, and not waste time fiddling with the radio or other items.

This is especially important when backing out of a shopping mall.  Drivers must be extra vigilant as there are children darting away from their parents; there are adults who somehow think it’s okay to walk behind a parked car, even one with its motor and lights already on.

Assume that the pedestrian is not paying attention, and is not aware that you are backing up – or believes that he/she is safe because legally he/she has the right of way – as if that fact makes the person invulnerable to being hit and seriously damaged or killed.  No doubt many gravestones could truthfully have the epitaph, “…but I was in the right!”

I still vividly remember a “close call” decades ago when I slowly backed out of a driveway only to slam the brakes because a wizened bent old man walked nonchalantly past my car as I inched backwards.

For your own peace of mind remember to look behind you, whether you are a driver or a traveler utilizing private or public transportation.  A simple matter of turning your head – an investment of a few quick seconds – can spare you a lifetime of soul-shattering heartache.

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