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So close.

By Alice Bradley

As in every week, a lot has been going on. But my mind keeps going
back to James Kim.
As I’m sure you know, Kim, his wife, and two children were missing for
days and days in the Oregon wilderness. On Monday his wife and
children were found, safe and healthy. On Wednesday James Kim’s body
was found.
We were in the car when the news came over the radio. James Kim was
found today in a shallow creek,
the reporter began. I shut it off
before Henry could hear. Parents always come back, we’ve told him. He
doesn’t need to know about one who didn’t.
Since the news came of his death, I keep thinking about him. So does
everyone else, it seems. I’d like to think that it’s not because he
was so much like, you know, us: educated, technology-savvy,
plugged in. I’d like to think that our preoccupation isn’t wrapped up
with our hubris, our certainty that something like this couldn’t
happen to us, even when the reality of it is staring us in the face.
When a tragedy like this occurs, we automatically separate ourselves.
We search the accounts for the victims’ mistakes, and we feel relieved
when the errors are so obvious, so not anything we would have done. We
become selfish and petty and grasping, just a little, just for a
moment, because more than anything, more than any respect we may have
for the dead, we need to believe that such a thing could never happen
to us.
But what happened to the Kim family could happen to anyone, no matter
how smart or educated. They took one wrong turn. We’ve all
taken wrong turns. For most of us, our road trips are graded on how
many wrong turns we took and how long our inability to read maps
detoured us. Their wrong turn happened to be in the middle of nowhere,
during a heavy snowstorm. By the time they realized how lost they
were, it was too late. We’ve all kept going even as the evidence of
our mistake mounted up around us. We’ve been able to turn back. They
were not.
He was so close to being okay. This is what I keep coming back to, how
easily this tragedy could have been turned around. When his family was
found on Monday, my first thought was, he’s already gone. No
one, starving for that many days, underdressed, wearing tennis shoes,
could survive the cold for long. Of course he’s already gone.
But he wasn’t. Even as I was thinking that, as probably everyone was
thinking that, he was still going, still searching for help. His
efforts were described in the press as superhuman. As the undersheriff
for the area said, he was a man who was “very motivated.”
His body was found only hours after he died. No more than a day,
certainly. If only they had found him just one day before.
Even more painful to fathom is that he didn’t know his family was
rescued. As parents, we just want our children to be okay. That’s the
nightmare that wakes us at 3 a.m., the thought that can veer our car
to the curb and leave us shaking. They might not be okay.
That’s what kept him walking and walking. When he fell, was he
delirious from the cold, or did he know what was happening? I don’t
want to believe that he was filled with despair even as his body
failed him, that his last thoughts were of his failure. I want to
think that on some level he knew, or he thought, they were okay.
They’re still talking about it on the radio, right now. “If he had
stayed in the car, would he still be alive?” the radio show’s host
asked the reporter. She wouldn’t say. Of course the answer is
yes. Really, what kind of a question is that? If he was still there
when the rescuers arrived, would he have been rescued?
But what
father could sit there, believing that by his inaction, his wife and
children would all perish? Any parent would have done what he did. We
want to believe that if it was us, we would have found that lodge; we
would have managed to stand up and keep going after that fall into the
creek. He was superhuman, but our superhumanness would somehow have
surpassed his.
Each new detail breaks your heart just a little more. Today, the news
that there was a lodge located a short distance from where his body
was found. A closed fishing lodge filled with supplies. He was one
mile away.
And the lock-did you hear about the lock? There was supposed to be a
lock to keep tourists off of the road. It had been stolen by vandals.
One lock could have erased this story.
Just one lock missing. Just one wrong turn; just one mile; just one day.
I hope his family finds comfort in the knowledge that the world
regards James Kim as a hero, what every father dreams of being when
his family is imperiled. I hope his children know how much he
accomplished, how hard he worked to save them. I hope over the years
they don’t think too much about how close he was, how easily
everything could have turned around. Right now it’s hard to think
about much else.

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Jenn

    December 8, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    I’ve shed quite a few tears the last few days for James, and a few more, thanks to your beautiful piece. You’ve just taken the thoughts I’ve had right out of my head.
    Thank u.

  • Janssen

    December 8, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    I’ve followed this story, but nothing I’ve read gave me chills or made it seem as real to me as you did. Thanks.

  • Kymba

    December 8, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Well said, Alice. I hope with every fiber of my being that he rests easy now, knowing all of his girls are safe, and warm.
    All that ‘what if’ discussion in the media irritates me, and is disrespectful to his family. Take a lesson, yes, and hope it never happens to you but be prepared. Because you’re right – it was just one wrong turn that could’ve happened to anybody. And the bottom line is he did what he thought he had to.
    Talk about it, conjecture all you like. Love isn’t words, and never will be.

  • Scout's Honor

    December 8, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    This story has made me heartsick. Everytime you hear of lost families, you think that could be you.
    Having lived in Alaska and both my husband and I being military, I would like to think we would know what to do, but really even my husband and I can’t agree what we would do in that situation and we don’t have the fear and terror and cold and babies in danger with which to contend to make our decision. It makes me sick thinking and reading the stories, second-guessing his decision.
    I know James’ decision was based upon looking into his young daughters’ eyes. I have teared up many times thinking of his desperation and realizing the sheer agony is wife is going through now. If only…
    His daughters will be proud of his legacy.

  • Cindy

    December 8, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    I’ve been consumed with thoughts about the Kim family. I followed the story, refreshing sites many times per minute just hoping that there was news of his safety. How devastating for that family. My heart goes out to them.
    Thank you for your take on this tragic story.

  • kirsten

    December 8, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    Living in Oregon, it has hit us so hard. My heart is breaking for them. I have nightmares about what I must start keeping in our cars. horrific.

  • Sara

    December 8, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you for such a nice account of your emotions surrounding this story. I live in Oregon and have travelled the roads here my entire life. At first, I did think — “what if he had stayed?” too, but then I imagined that he had no choice; he couldn’t stay and watch his family starve.
    Like many people, I watched the news with great anticipation; I wept when they found the children alive as I gripped my own daughter on my lap, safe and warm. What is it about this story? I think it’s the fragility — the nightmares you mentioned — the small mistakes that we make every day.
    Thanks again, your talent as a writer is often funny, but always touching in some way.

  • Tara

    December 8, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    I was gripped by this story from the first day the Kim family was reported missing, because I live in the area where they originally thought they might have gone off the road, farther north than Bear Camp Road. I have been obsessively reading every tidbit I could find, hoping and praying that the family was safe, and was devastated when my husband called to tell me they had found his body. I feel such a sense of loss because I connected so emotionally with the Kims. I have an 11 month old daughter I’m nursing who looks so much like Sabine, and I too have agonized over what James and Kati must have been thinking during their whole horrible ordeal. Thank you for your wonderful words. They touched me. Kati, Penelope and Sabine are in the thoughts and prayers of a lot of people, mine included.

  • Angela

    December 8, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Wow. I actually knew very very little about this story. Just that there was a man lost in Oregon who was missing and then was found dead. I am very emotionally weak and because of that I never watch the news. I just can’t handle it. I get all my news from other people mentioning things to me.
    I am really glad you wrote this post. I am glad I know his story. It was beautiful and made me cry, which I think it would be hard to read it and not cry…
    The things that change our lives are so terrifying. The tiniest little change can alter our entire exsistance. He is a hero. I hope he is never forgotten.

  • iheartnewyork

    December 8, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Yours is the best summary of this horrible, tragic situation that I’ve seen.

  • Janet Bowser

    December 8, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    This story haunts me. Today when I was taking my kids to school it was breathtakingly cold and nearly blizzarding. I was thinking, I am freezing. Then I thought, Imagine nine days of this in sneakers and trying to keep my babies alive…
    When the commentators were talking about his mistakes, I thought, Of course he had to go for help. That’s what daddies do. There are so many ‘if onlys’ and here is one more. If only Rand McNally had listed that route as closed in winter…
    Both Mommy and Daddy Kim are heroes in my opinion. My heart just aches for the whole family.

  • Catizhere

    December 8, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    Oh Alice. With the words.
    I broke down in the parking lot at work after hearing of Mr. Kim’s death. He was doing what any father would do (at least I hope any father would)
    My heart and prayers go out to the Kim family.

  • Stefania

    December 8, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    thank you for your beautiful words.

  • Elizabeth

    December 8, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    I watch very little news, so I hadn’t heard about the lodge or the lock. I can hardly stand to even think about how they survived as long as they did, and James Kim is the very definition of a hero. Thank you for writing this so well.

  • anna

    December 8, 2006 at 10:07 pm

    Tragic stories like this one bring us all face to face with our profound vulnerability to fate, luck, chance.
    One of the things that I found most moving at the end of this story was during the press conference given by the man who had coordinated the search efforts. He kept repeating, “They did nothing wrong. They did nothing wrong.”
    The impulse to make the Kims wrong for getting lost is just another way for people to distance themselves, to avoid the awareness that the line between life and death, between us and them, is ever so fine and we might not know, until too late, that we have crossed it.

  • dorothy

    December 8, 2006 at 11:44 pm

    I totally agree. This was the saddest story ever, but also the most beautiful, because of what he did for his family. He didn’t die in vain.

  • Reiza-Mara

    December 9, 2006 at 12:33 am

    Your entry about this is wonderful. I find myself feeling much the same way.
    I wanted to point out one thing, though. There’s no telling if anyone would have been rescued if he had stayed in the car. The reports I’ve heard all say that they followed his footprints to the car. So if he hadn’t left, one has to wonder if they would have found the family in time.
    I’m so amazed by his determination and so saddened by his loss. That poor family!

  • Deb

    December 9, 2006 at 1:24 am

    Thank God you wrote this Alice, it has been haunting me. I sobbed when they found him, I was so sure he was going to make it. I am from Oregon too and grew up on that area.
    I am frustrated by the humanity in all of us needing to second guess him and his choices.
    You said it so beautifully, thank you thank you thank you.

  • dinka

    December 9, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    Alice as alway, you just say the right thing. We just don’t want to believe that this could happen to us. The thought of death is just so unbearable. Nobody can bring him back, but he has changed so many lives already. He reminded us how valuable our time is, now it’s up to us to make it count. Every single thing I’ve read mentions what a good person he was. What else could we strive for?
    Right now his loss seems so unnecessary but down the road it will leave footprints… because it will help us be less judgemental and more forgiving and more mindful of our time and hopefully more loving selfless to the people around us.

  • Frema

    December 9, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    This essay does a wonderful job of pointing out both our strengths and weaknesses as a people. My eyes are watering here, too.

  • Robin

    December 9, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    M’kay. Now I just need to go hug my whole family. Keep it up Alice; you’re amazing.

  • Jennifer

    December 9, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    I hadn’t heard about the lock. More tears now. The Kim family hasn’t actually left my thoughts since the first report over a week ago. All of the “what ifs”. All of the heartache. Thinking of the conversation James and Kim must have had before he left that morning. And then back to the “what ifs”. In my mind, though, he heard the helicopters before he died. He kept going and going until he knew they were safe and then he just couldn’t any more. But, in my mind, he knew.

  • jen

    December 10, 2006 at 1:00 am

    it’s given all of us pause. because you are right, it could have been any one of us. and we would have done exactly what he did.
    it is more horrible and heartbreaking than i know what to do with.

  • cgh

    December 10, 2006 at 10:46 am

    Great post. Now go read this.

  • Lisa C.

    December 10, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you for honoring his memory.

  • Vikki

    December 10, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    “Just one lock missing. Just one wrong turn; just one mile; just one day.”
    This line nearly brought me to tears because this is exactly what makes the story so unbearable. You captured it perfectly.

  • politicallyincorrectmom

    December 10, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    Well you made me cry. An unspeakable tragedy.

  • ozma

    December 11, 2006 at 1:22 am

    Heartbreaking. I think his family would want to read this. If not now, someday.

  • Alisa

    December 12, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Thank you for writing this. I don’t know the Kim family and I hadn’t heard of them before this tragedy. But I, like hundreds of others, cannot stop thinking about them. I have been dreaming about James Kim’s heroic efforts, and feeling his urgency to help his family. Thank you especially for the first part of your post, where you explored WHY we’re so shocked by this event. The sameness. I feel like you’ve put into words what so many people have been feeling.

  • Monkee

    December 13, 2006 at 11:50 am

    I don’t know exactly what it is about this story that has kept me so involved, but I can’t let it go. When I first read the news, even though I was alone, I found myself saying outloud “I really thought he was going to make it.” Every morning since that day, that is my first thought when I wake up. I, like everybody, knew there was almost no chance for him once he left the car that fateful day, but I guess knowing and accepting are two very different things.

  • Tara in VA

    December 13, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you for such a beautiful piece. I had been following the Kims’ story up until he was found–it’s heartbreaking.

  • ewe_are_here

    December 13, 2006 at 6:15 pm

    This story made me so sad.
    And you’re right; it could happen to anyone. One wrong turn.

  • Michelle

    December 15, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Typically when I read your writing, Alice, I only expect to cry tears of laughter. But this entry made me cry tears of sadness. I don’t typically cry over the news (I generally avoid watching it), but the news of James Kim’s death made me cry, and I couldn’t figure out why. What you wrote helped me to finally understand why. Thank you for such a beautiful, touching post. I’m an agnostic leaning toward atheism, but at this moment, I really hope there is a beyond and that James Kim knows that his family is OK.

  • tia

    December 22, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    This tragedy captivated me for days (being an Oregonian) and still lurks in my conscience often, especially during moments when my two girls and I just do something silly like walking to the mailbox in the cold. All I can do is remember but this truly was SOO TRAGIC.