This week, four teenagers wrapped a car around a tree on their way home from a party. The accident happened in my neighborhood, four blocks from my house. It was estimated that the car was going at least 60 miles an hour when it flipped and became airborne. Two of the teens died on impact the other two are in critical condition. One of those attended the same high school as my sixteen year old.
I drove by the spot yesterday on my way home. The sign post at the corner of Oak and Twilight has become a memorial to those we have lost, a tribute wrapped with ribbons, balloons, and love notes; an expression of disbelief and grief and a temporary reminder of the permanent devastation of their choices that night.
For several days I couldn’t stop thinking about the parents who had lost their children or those who sat in ICU wondering if their child would walk again. I wondered how many times the parents had warned their kids to drive safely. I wondered why they didn’t.
Why do we continue to lose our children to accidents that involve high speed and alcohol? Why do our pleas to use a designated driver, or to call us for a ride from a party fall on deaf ears? Why do our kids think they are invincible and how can we find a less extreme way to teach them that they are not?
Globally, our conversations are not having the impact we intend. I just read that the leading cause of death in 15-20 year olds is automobile accidents, 40% of all teen deaths! Of those, 30% involved alcohol and 50% were not wearing seat belts. Sixteen year olds are 3 times more likely to die in an automobile accident than any other age group. As elders, how do we share our wisdom and knowledge in a way that edifies rather than vilifies? How do we find the balance between teaching lessons through our guidance and experience and allowing for each individual’s need to learn from his or her own experience? I think the key is honoring independent thinking so that others will enlist rather than resist us.
I talk with my teen about designated drivers and we have a verbal agreement that he won’t drive under the influence or put himself in risky situations with others…but I’m pretty sure that those conversations went on in the homes of these families too. We have had several conversations this week and I hope that they will cause him to pause in those moments when he has to make a choice and remember how much he is loved. I hope he will risk a moment of parental disappointment over a lifetime of lost possibilities.
This feels like a significant learning opportunity for me about knowledge sharing, or passing the baton, from the older generation to the younger ones. As I search for a way to compress meaning that is worthy of this sorrow into a kernel that I can carry with me, I want to remember to:
Keep listening without judgment and share all that I am by being present to what is needed now….and then to let go and trust that he will find his way safely from that moment.
Rest in Peace, T.L. and R.W.