Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 24, 2002
So be saintly and drive safely
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
You see them only briefly, usually out of the corner of your eye. But even in that flash, you recognize someone died there.
I'm speaking of the shrines built by grief-stricken families and friends. They mark our highways and roads with increasing frequency, formed by mounds of flowers, perhaps topped with a wooden cross or a photograph of the person who died on that spot.
Rarely do we slow down to look closely at these tributes to loved ones. There is something just a little off-putting about knowing we've just passed a place where someone actually died. And yet, that's the reality.
People die on our streets by the thousands each year. About one-fourth of them were aged 16 to 24. Few, if any, expected that ride to be their last. Most presumed that this was just one more ride, no more special or different from any other. But it wasn't. This time, they died.
Young people, no older than 16, can't wait to drive. It represents something wonderful, the freedom of getting around without depending on others.
Cars and trucks are a sort of liberation. They not only get teens to school and work, but to get-togethers with friends, opportunities to be away from parents and others who have authority. Wheels can be a wonderful and freeing thing.
But there's more to it than that. These instruments of our freedom have power. They have potential for great good, and a parallel bad. More frightening, perhaps, is the arbitrariness of life. You can be the world's greatest driver, obeying all the rules, looking both ways before you move and still get killed.
It just takes one other driver out there to accomplish this horrible reality. Most cars are made of at least a tonne of steel, a force that can save you or destroy you, depending on the circumstances.
Of course, there are some things we can do to improve chances of survival. Deciding every single time you go partying to have one person in the vehicle as a designated driver is vital. And avoiding people who seem to be driving in a questionable way is just good common sense. Knowing roads, lights, curves and blind spots is all part of adequate preparation.
And yet, with even the best preparation, people still die in unacceptable numbers. Families still build increasing numbers of roadside memorials to those they have loved and lost in the most commonplace of activities, the drive from one place to another.
When someone we love goes off to war, we know what may well happen. When someone we love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, we know they may not face a happy end. When someone we love lives on the edge, we know they face the real risk of going over that edge.
But driving seems so basic, so normal, so unthreatening. Well, it is and it isn't. Because even in the everyday, there are dangers. There are risks.
Rather than avert our eyes, we should slow down and notice those shrines. They remind us of lives ended. They encourage us to drive more slowly, watch more cautiously, temper our rage and anger, and remember that we're driving in an instrument that can cause death.
We all want to make a difference for good in the world. Sometimes that's accomplished by something as ordinary, as basic as being a careful driver who respects life: your own and others. Those are not just makeshift shrines, after all. They are reminders that caution and concern can be signs of true love.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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