This I Believe
New Year’s Day dawned sparkling and blue. The snowstorm of the day before had cleared, leaving behind a perfect cover of dazzling white, and the sky was that cold blue so true to January. After enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee, I felt a swell of motivation and began to clean the kitchen. I went at it with fervor, fueled by the sight on the bright sun on the clean counters and floor as I went. The house was filled with light and I wanted that fresh start feeling that comes on this particular day. It seemed like the perfect beginning to a new year.
And then I got the news. A good friend of my daughter’s was dead. He died in a car wreck in the early morning hours, only a quarter of a mile from his home. He was drunk. He was twenty. And he was gone, just like that.
I felt sick to my stomach. I saw my face in the mirror and I looked gray. Suddenly all the bright possibilities of the morning were sucked out of the house. I felt flattened as the shockwaves of this news rolled over me.
I didn’t even like this kid. He wasn’t a “good kid” and I didn’t approve the friendship he’d shared with my daughter. But none of that made any difference as I called to tell her the news. She took the news like the blunt kick that it was and hung up promptly. Later in the day we spoke again and she said to me, “I’m mad at him. He is so stupid. He was probably drunk. He was always driving drunk.”
It turns out she was right. He had been drinking, and left his friends at 2:30 to weave his way home. Before he died he hit two other vehicles. No one else was seriously injured, but their cars were totaled. That loss can be covered, of course, but the loss of his life is forever.
I kept thinking of his parents and his little brother. Just another family who’ve now been devastated by a loss. It happens everyday, so they say. But when it happens to you, what do you care about that fact? All they know is it’s now happened to them, and they will never be the same.
And I’m wondering. What could these parents have done? Not let him go out that night? Did they ask him about whether he’d be drinking? What he would do if he’d had more than he should before getting in the car? I don’t know what efforts they may have made in this regard, but know that I believe in talking to our kids, even if it means getting in their faces, even if it means they’ll resent us.
And what about the people he was with before he got into that car? Did they see he’d had too much to drink? Did they think to ask for his keys? I believe in speaking out. I believe in embarrassing, in confronting, in challenging, in risking arousing the anger of others, especially if it means there could be one less person dead from a senseless accident.
Parents can never totally protect their children, no matter how desperately we’d like to. Friends can’t take responsibility for the choices of their friends, not completely. But we are responsible for each other to the extent that we can make a difference or influence an outcome. I believe we are our brother’s keeper, and as such we must never shy from taking on the unpleasant and uncomfortable topics. In the end, it just might save a life.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.