It was Rick’s birthday yesterday. He would have been 56; he may have had children; he may have become a great teacher, a skilled mechanic or a captivating author. Instead he is a memory; an 18 year old boy with a sparkle in his eye; the son of a bright and inquisitive woman; the brother of a young woman with a wicked sense of humour; a loyal friend.
Rick was killed crossing Mississauga Road at 2:00 am by the only vehicle on the road; a truck driven by a man with a record for drunk driving. For months after Rick’s death, I struggled with the injustice of his death; how unfair it was for someone so young with so much potential to die so young. I blamed God; I could not figure out how God, if he/she existed, could allow such things to happen.
I was also plagued by the “if only’s”. If only Rick left the party when I left. If only the truck driver was paying closer attention. If only, he was not drunk. If only Rick had not been drinking so much. If only….if only….. I became terrified of life; it seemed that the smallest decision could have such dire circumstances. I finally let go of the paralysing fear by telling myself that we all have a time and that that was Rick’s time. It was the only way I could go on living fully.
As I get older, I have come to know that it is more complicated than that. I work in public health. I know that individuals make choices that affect their risk of injury and chronic disease every day. But I also know that collectively, we make choices that affect the risks and quality of life for all who share the planet with us. Today we have laws and educational programs that discourage drunk driving; something that Rick’s mother contributed to. But still we build most of our communities around roads, instead of bike lanes and transit systems. We still rely heavily on fossil fuels that are polluting our air and altering our climate. We allow carcinogens and neurotoxins to be released into our food chains. We allow people to go hungry and homeless in our communities. We allow people in other countries to live in poverty and desperation. We sell guns to the desperate and missiles to the despots. Collectively, we shape the environment, the economic and social circumstances that shape life, risks, and death on this planet.
So, is death a matter of chance; a random event that strikes the unlucky? Or do we come into these lives with lessons we want to learn; experiences we want to have; with pre-ordained destinies? Or is life an amalgam of choice and chance? The choice of individuals blended with our collective choices and a dash of chance? I don’t know. It is clear to me that death has little to do with what people deserve in this life. The young and the innocent die daily; of starvation in developing countries; of cancer, “accidents”, crime and suicide in developed countries. Good people can die young from disease, “accidents” and “acts of God”.
This tells me that, if there is a God, he/she is less concerned with out mortal lives than he/she is with the state of our souls. I am starting to get that. But I am still struggling with the rest. Are we meant to come down here to provide compassion and comfort only to one another? Or are we meant to come down here to fix things; to learn how to make collective choices that minimize unnecessary suffering and death? Or is it all a crap shoot; are the events in our lives, and death itself, random events that result from chaos in the world?
- The number of alcohol-related fatal accidents in California is increasing (articles.onlineautoinsurance.com)
- Student Drunk Driving may Raise Auto Insurance Claims (news.onlineautoinsurance.com)
- No Choice is a Small Choice (weforgotyounot.wordpress.com)