I hate driving and have an intense fear of being involved in an automobile accident. Yet I find myself being careless far too often. I take my eyes off the road. I reach for something. I answer the phone. I grab for some change for the drive up-coffee or approaching toll. In the past several weeks I have read about some awful incidents: a runner was struck down and killed by a texting teenager and another texting and driving incident left a runner in critical condition. What brings me to write this piece is the sudden end of life for a seventeen year-old teenage boy. I did not know this boy; I only know that in the late hours of the evening/early morning a few weeks ago he lost control of his car going down the same hill that I travel up and down every day when I bring my son Elijah to school. The hill is long and steep going up. It winds fast on the way down. I often grow impatient with drivers in either direction as I rush to get to school or to work or to my morning run. That particular spring morning when that teenager died, his vehicle crossed the small four lanes away from the college campus. I drove up the hill with my ten year old son and we saw the beginning of the memorial. Deep tire tracks crossed the grass median. There was a rusty lamp post adorned with a gathering of teddy bears, flowers and signs. The collection grew with each passing day. Elijah asked me what happened. As I told him about the accident, and gave him a glimpse of the realness of the outside world, I looked in his eyes and imagined him at seventeen. My heart felt so heavy. I had to catch my breath for my boy, and for the boy that lost his life and for that boy’s mother and father.
Sometimes in my life I experience what I can only call a domino affect of both positive and negative events. Later that evening I read of more tragic news and watched a video clip of someone texting while driving. I made myself watch it. I knew that it was going to be bad. The clip showed an SUV driving into the path of an eighteen-wheeler truck and being obliterated within seconds. Those lives in the vehicle and all the lives that were intertwined with those passengers were changed forever in a split second. I felt a pang that told myself that something had to change. For the next several days I turned my phone off upon entering the car. I remembered what it was like before the days of this constant access. I listened to the radio. I paid more attention in the grocery store, eventually forgetting my phone in the car. I faintly remembered how I would long ago wait until I got home before I even concerned myself with someone or anyone who may be trying to get a hold of me. I felt a longing for the old answering machines that you had to flip the tape over. So often you would hear someone finishing up their message on the machine just as you were opening the door. I recalled the distant memory of having to pull over and use a pay phone. I knew where they all were across town: the ones that sheltered you from the rain, the ones that people could call you back on, and how I would memorize each distinct graffiti mark. I realized how much I am controlled by my present day constant contact.
Yet nowadays, I am always with my phone, especially when I am away from my son. I run with it. I even keep it with me when I am racing. I am the only person to call in case of emergency with my son. People will ask me why I am running with my phone enclosed in a Ziploc bag in the rain. I carry it for Elijahs comfort. I often ask him: “Do you want mom to run with her phone today?” The most important thing I can give my child is trust. It is something that he has so desperately needed in his first ten years of life. For this reason alone, my phone is always turned on.
In the weeks past, I realized how easy it was to decide to give something up. I look at my life and know how important it is for me to walk away from or rather tear myself away from certain things that have become familiar. This kind of change means leading an intentional life, and it takes work and discipline. There was a brief mention of the boy who died in the local newspaper. There were typical descriptions about how he was a nice kid and how it was a tragic loss. Every word I read provoked a shriek in my soul.
The wind picked up for days after that accident and pieces of notes and flowers blew hard in those March winds. Roses that were wrapped in zebra printed cellophane blew through the air. They passed over the ground near the accident, that corner of earth where this boy traversed in the last moments of his life. I got out of my car and chased the cellophane wrapper, tears welling up in my eyes. I yelled in the wind and to the passing careless drivers. I wished they could stop, that they too could feel what I felt. I saw nothing else about the boy in the following days. Last week the maintenance crew from the local college took down the memorial, leaving only the slightly overgrown tire tracks, and skid marks to the pole. I was angry they took it all down, angry at life and all of it’s tragic uncertainty. I drove by there today with Elijah. The college campus was quiet on this afternoon of Good Friday. I stopped to take a picture of the hill, the light post and the daffodil from the memorial that was left behind. I held Elijah’s hand tight. I looked to the sky, and I told the boy I was sorry.