Yesterday, I attended a pre-prom assembly at one of our local high schools. Two guest speakers were there speaking to the students about making good choices, especially when it comes to drinking and driving.
The first gentleman, Chris, told a story - his very true real-life story - about an evening when he was 22 years old. He and a friend were at one party drinking and got a call from friends to come to another party. They jumped into the car without thinking about anything other than how quickly they could change parties. A few miles later, Chris crashed into a car. Inside that car was a married couple. Someone's parents. And grandparents. One minute they were turning into their driveway, the next minute they were dead.
Chris went on to describe the nearly 9 years he spent in prison. He talked about what it was like living each day with the painful realization he had killed two people. He shared what it would be like one day to explain to his two young children why he has to blow into a machine to allow his car to start. That is, if he is ever given permission to drive again. Chris will spend the next several years on parole. Many beyond that on probation.
The other gentleman, Eric, couldn't speak. He was a former high school and college baseball standout. One night, after a night of celebrating a baseball victory, he got out of a taxi that was going to take him back to campus and jumped instead into the car of a friend who had also been drinking. It was only 3 miles to campus; what could go wrong? A few moments later the car crashed. His best friend and teammate who was in the backseat was killed. Eric spent the next year in a coma. He has permanent brain damage. He communicates by pointing to words on a board and using an iPad voice application.
Both men's lives took completely different courses because of split second decisions. When they were done speaking I was overwhelmed with thoughts.
First, how much I hoped the teenagers in attendance were paying attention in spite of every young kid's inclination to believe stories like the ones they had just heard happen to other people - not them.
How much I respected the men who spoke. I don't like the fact that innocent lives were lost as a result of their decisions more than anyone else does. I feel for the families of the lost. But I can also put myself in the shoes of someone who has caused such a senseless loss of life, and in the shoes of a healthy, young baseball star who is now left with an inability to walk and talk. There are too many reasons to count why both of these gentlemen mind find it easier to crawl in a corner somewhere and wish the regretful seconds of life away. Instead, they rise each day and make every effort to ensure no one else ever causes the damage in life they've caused. I respect that.
Finally, I thought about my life. I looked back on the too many times to count that I put myself in the same situation these guys started in. Driving drunk or riding with someone who was drunk. Yet, somehow, I don't live with memories of killing anyone, and I can throw a baseball with my kids; neither of these things is because I made better decisions than these two gentlemen.
I left the assembly feeling very grateful for the life I have, and the one I don't have. I don't believe God intervened to protect me more than these gentleman; our bad choices take on lives of their own. But I do believe God is there for strength to overcome the often tragic results of our poor decisions, and to lend direction to the overwhelming sense of gratitude we feel when we realize that along the way we dodged many bullets at the hands of our own stupidity.
I've been blessed with the opportunity the last two years to work on a project to prevent drinking and driving crashes in our community involving young people and alcohol. It has been frustrating work, at times, mainly because I so fully understand how difficult it is to get kids to understand that bad things happen to everyone, not just other people. I was reminded yesterday that it really doesn't matter who's listening to the story, or if they like it or believe it, it is real, and it must be told. If Chris and Eric continue to see the hope, there's no reason I can't as well.
If you have any interest in watching a piece of Chris and Eric's story, you can watch it here: