This Sunday past (1/28/07), a horrible auto accident occurred on the freeway overpass two exits from my house. Three people were killed, including a 16-year-old boy who had just gotten his driver’s license in November 2006. This was, by all accounts, his first winter behind the wheel, which could explain why he didn’t realize that the bridge he ventured onto was frozen and covered with black ice, even though the adjacent roadway remained clear. The crash also involved a fire upon impact. Like I said, pretty horrible.
Tragedies such as this are always so … well, tragic … not just because they rob someone of life, but because they rob an individual of life at such a young age. In this case, the story becomes even more agonizing because the young man who died was driving illegally. The driver’s license he possessed had some limitations, namely, that he wasn’t supposed to drive after midnight (the accident occurred at 1:30 AM) and he wasn’t supposed to have passengers in his vehicle (the sole survivor of the crash is the decedent’s friend, another 16-year old boy). The other victims were 52- and 33-years old respectively, two gentlemen who were heading home after work at Foxwoods casino. One of the men leaves behind children under the age of five. Now, because insurance companies and our legal system work the way they do, the possibility exists that the parents of this young driver may be held accountable, criminally, civilly, and financially, for the actions of the son they mourn.
Excluding the concomitant legal issues, I am no stranger to this type of scenario. As a middle school student, my cousin, who lived three blocks southwest of my house, drowned in the lake three blocks west of my home. As a high school student, my graduating class was the only one for a number of years that matriculated intact. The classes before me and after me all lost young people to accidental death. Being from Minnesota, a number of these mishaps involved either farm equipment, thin lake ice, or firearms during hunting season (hence, the reason my school offered gun safety classes in eighth grade). A nighttime boating mishap on one of the local lakes (there are five in my hometown) took several students at one time. An auto accident en route from a sports competition killed a star player on our girls basketball team. That crash occurred directly in front of the team bus. Five members of our gymnastics team were injured and one was killed, the result of a car crash directly across the street from the coach’s home. No matter when or where it happened, no matter how many people perished, it was tragic.
Yet, one lesson I learned from my exposure to these incidents was that life gets riskier after 10:00 PM. More drunken, or sleepy, drivers are on the road; weather conditions are more difficult to assess because of falling temperatures and reduced visibility; and the darkness alone makes it more difficult to observe hazards (dredge buoys on a lake, for example). To keep me safer, because no one is ever perfectly safe, my parents instituted what I refer to as the Ten O’Clock Rule: since the risk of exposure to dangerous or non-edifying life events increases dramatically after 10:00 PM, you need to be in the house at that hour. The only exception to this rule was if I was out with my parents, or another set of parents, attending some pre-approved event (e.g., basketball game, concert, etc.) at which I would be chaperoned and from which I would be escorted home. A corollary to the Ten O’Clock Rule was the Courtesy Call Rule: whenever you change locations, call your parents to inform them of your new planetary coordinates. That meant that if I left school and walked to the mall, I had to call home to inform someone of my whereabouts; or if I left a concert and went for ice cream, I had to ring home.
Now before you jump to the conclusion that my parents were ridiculously strict, let me add that these were the ONLY two hard-and-fast rules in my house. What I read was never censored; what I said was never discounted, ignored, or taken as unimportant. It had to be politely delivered, but it was never discounted. I understood that these rules were for my safety, protection, and education. I didn’t always like the rules and sometimes I would express my opinion about them but, ultimately, I understood that my parents were just doing their job.
If only the boy who died on Sunday had observed the Ten O-Clock Rule.
Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.