I have a daughter that will be turning 16 in a few short months. She recently got her learner's permit. I'm scared. Nervous and worried might be more to the point. I think with good reason, too. We all have heard the reports - teens are more likely to be involved in a traffic accident in the first six months of driving than any other time. You have to look no farther than the evening news to see this happen every day...and last night was no exception. A simple posting on Facebook alerted us to the news - "Five Teens Killed in Adams County Crash." Teens. Killed. Those two words, if any adults had their way, would never appear in the same sentence. In the small town north of where I grew up, these five teens were riding together in their Saturn when they crossed the center-line. They ran into a pickup truck that was pulling an empty livestock trailer, which then pushed the Saturn 200 feet. That's 2/3 of a football field. Imagine how far we think it is when a running back breaks free for a 65-yard run. Yeah, THAT far. The impact as they were headed north, then suddenly got pushed southward for 200 feet. The driver of the pickup, his wife, and two children were not injured...physically. The car swerved into his path and the crash was unavoidable. Again, though they were not injured physically, I cannot imagine living the rest of my life knowing I was the driver when we collided...and five teens were killed. The ages of the teenagers? One was 17, three were 16, and one was 15. This should never happen.
They say this is particularly troubling at this time of year. I understand that. There will be 5 families that, in just a few short weeks, will have to live with the loss of their children as we celebrate THE holiday of the year. The one where the world grows a little more peaceful, and words are spoken a little more gently as we interact with each other. Christmas will always be a sad time for these families, especially since a parent is never supposed to bury a child. It's not natural. The school and fellow students will never be the same. To this day, I can name the students that were killed when their car ran into a tree head-on and their lives were lost while we were in high school. You never forget it...and it's not the way anyone wants to be remembered. The families will gather to mourn rather than celebrate...and that is wrong. The families, while grieving, will try to maintain a sense of normalcy...that will not come. We, as friends, will be placed in that awkward position of knowing not what to say, knowing not how to offer any true comfort...for that will be impossible. We aren't supposed to lose our youth this way.
Flowers will be placed along the road where this happened. For weeks and months, people will pass the spot and, if they knew these teens, will most likely shed a tear and feel the lump in their throat as they remember their friends. We owe it to their memories...and to our children's lives...to keep talking to them about safety. I remember once, as I walked out the door, my mother calling for me to, "Be careful." I, being the idiot son that she had, called back, "No, mom...I'm going out to throw caution to the wind and be a daredevil." She should have smacked me harder. I remember the first time I got the call, too. I had had my share of accidents in a car when I was younger and, fortunately, walked away from them relatively unscathed. When my son turned 16 and got his first car, I was attending a function at my daughter's school. It was 7:10 p.m. when my phone rang. He'd been in an accident and ran into a tree on a treacherous curve. He was fine, however I remember the feeling...and automatically thought of the times I put my own parents through the same thing. I eventually called my father and told him, "I'm a member of the club now...and I don't like it." I now knew the feeling...and worry that the call will come again. As I prepare for it, hoping it will not happen, I will stress to my daughter to be careful and wear her seat belt. I will tell her that it isn't worth risking an accident to get somewhere 5 minutes early. I will tell her, drastic as it may sound, that I do not want to have to place flowers on the side of the road. I will do whatever it takes to make her understand how fragile life is...and how hard for the survivors. I will never stop telling her how precious she is and how much I love her. I will always let her know that she, too, can never be too careful.
Please keep telling your children. Share this story with them, though they feel invincible at this age. Let them know...MAKE them understand...they are not. No one should have to anticipate Christmas while remembering the loss of a child. For 5 families in Pennsylvania tonight, they are doing just that...and our hearts go out to them. Our children are far too important for something like this...something preventable...to take them from us. Make sure they understand. Make sure you tell them, too, how much you love them. Again, for five families, they will never have that chance again.
Until next time.............