One amazing aspect about life is that we never know when we influence someone. I thought about that not too long ago when I had an extended telephone with one of my former students who is now working as civil engineer. Many of the “stories” I have related to him through the years are from lessons I learned back home in strawberry packing shed from my maternal Grandfather, his twin, and their peers or those K&B stores or out on the rivers or lakes with my Dad.
Recently two of my high school classmates, sweet and beautiful twin sisters both then and today, provided me with some clips of a demonstration that they participated in along with a couple of their children at our old high school. The school chapter of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) sponsored the activity.
Through the years I’ve seen similar demonstrations, but I have never seen one which encompassed such a multitude of variables involved with a traffic accident resulting in a fatality, an individual in critical condition with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) who if they survive emergency surgery will also face the reality of being an amputee, the emotional aspects on the family of the injured and deceased, and the emotions of the impaired driver and family upon incarceration.
The demonstration was obviously moving to those students present as their changes in demeanor transition throughout this brief 20 minutes. It takes time to sink in, but here is a life ending and life altering event which may not have happened without the effects of alcohol and distractions such as texting had not been present.
Now thinking back my generation heard warning about drinking and driving and speeding. We saw films such as those in the Red Asphalt series.
Perhaps the most effective film or literature piece I recall, however, was a posting from Dear Abby, Abigail Van Buren, which she ran numerous times in her newspaper column.
“Please, God, I`m only 17.
The day I died was an ordinary school day. How I wish I had taken the bus! But I was too cool for the bus. I remember how I wheedled the car out of Mom. “Special favor,“ I pleaded. “All the kids drive.“ When the 2:50 bell rang, I threw all my books in the locker. I was free until 8:40 tomorrow morning! I ran to the parking lot, excited at the thought of driving a car and being my own boss. Free!
It doesn`t matter how the accident happened. I was goofing off–going too fast. Taking crazy chances. But I was enjoying my freedom and having fun. The last thing I remember was passing an old lady who seemed to be going awfully slow. I heard a deafening crash and I felt a terrible jolt. Glass and steel flew everywhere. My whole body seemed to be turning inside out. I heard myself scream.
Suddenly I awakened; it was very quiet. A police officer was standing over me. Then I saw a doctor. My body was mangled. I was saturated with blood. Pieces of jagged glass were sticking out all over. Strange that I couldn`t feel anything.
Hey, don`t pull that sheet over my head! I can`t be dead. I`m only 17. I`ve got a date tonight. I`m supposed to grow up and have a wonderful life. I haven`t lived yet. I can`t be dead.
Later I was placed in a drawer. My folks had to identify me. Why did they have to see me like this? Why did I have to look at Mom`s eyes when she faced the most terrible ordeal of her life? Dad suddenly looked like an old man. He told the man in charge, “Yes, he is my son.“
The funeral was a weird experience. I saw all my relatives and friends walk toward the casket. They passed by, one by one, and looked at me with the saddest eyes I`ve ever seen. Some of my buddies were crying. A few of the girls touched my hand and sobbed as they walked away.
Please–somebody–wake me up! Get me out of here! I can`t bear to see my mom and dad so broken up. My grandparents are so racked with grief they can hardly walk. My brother and sisters are like zombies. They move like robots. In a daze, everybody! No one can believe this. And I can`t believe it, either. Please don`t bury me! I`m not dead! I have a lot of living to do! I want to laugh and run again. I want to sing and dance. Please don`t put me in the ground. I promise if you give me just one more chance, God, I`ll be the most careful driver in the whole world. All I want is one more chance.
Please, God, I`m only 17!”
Even with the warnings, the reminders, it was after our graduation that tragic reality struck many of us when we lost former classmates in traffic accidents. Some things cannot be prevented. Some things just happen for reasons nobody can explain. Some things, however, can be altered.
It is my hope that the currents students at Albany High back home in Louisiana in making the effort to conduct this demonstration, will cause you, me, someone, to simply stop for a brief moment and consider the potential consequences of driving while impaired or distracted. That pause, an iota, the taken for granted seconds of a breath or a heartbeat, may prevent a traumatic chain of events in the lives of so many while needlessly ending the lives of some who may have been the people capable of saving others.
I am a proud graduate of my high school, but even prouder today to think that my classmates and their children are participating in activities such as this one in hopes of preventing a tragedy for themselves or someone whom they will never meet or know about. It’s humbling.