St. Patrick’s Day was one of Anna’s favorite days – though, to be honest, she had a lot of favorite days. Since she was born on the 13th of May, the 13th of any month was her special day – doubly special, I don’t know why, if it was a Friday the 13th. St. Patrick’s Day was special because we had an Irish friend who loved the girls, and made us part of their family. They always had a great gathering on St. Patrick’s Day. The girls loved that party, and when we planned our Lenten Observance, we always made an exception for March 17th.
John hated sorrow and suffering. It made him a great hospice physician. It made him a soft touch to children. It seems unfair that our day of sorrow should be March 17th.
Three young people were killed that day by a driver who had been drinking. Two others in the car survived, though that never seems to be a fair word to describe the devastation such a day makes on a young life. Why is it that the intoxicated driver so often seems to escape injury? In this case he broke his ankles. I guess it’s because he was driving a larger car at least 25 miles per hour faster than they were. The physics of the equation are not good.
I have driven by the spot where he turned down the exit ramp onto the freeway, heading north in the southbound lanes. It was not an easy thing to do – unless he was already on the wrong side of the divider as he approached the overpass. You stare at those places, trying to piece together the unthinkable.
It was many miles before the curve where the collision happened. It was not an accident. Accidents are, by definition, unpredictable events. This was entirely predictable. I have seen that place too: the scrape marks on the guard rail that kept him on the road instead of driving into the ditch in the median, the tread marks when the driver of my daughter’s car slammed on the brakes in the half second before the impact. I have seen the crime scene photos of the car, too. If I was going to be haunted by that day, I wanted to be haunted by the real thing, not my imagination. It is incredible anyone survived.
I wanted to see the body when she was shipped back to Michigan after the autopsy. I wanted to see before the funeral director applied the makeup and laid her out. If I was to be haunted… I stayed to watch them close the casket before the funeral service, too, placing the small wreath of daisies on her head. And I stayed while the backhoe came and lowered the lid to the vault and dumped the dirt into the hole. I wanted to drink the dregs. I owed her that. And if I was to be haunted…
I had stood in that same cemetery many times, watching on behalf of families who went on ahead. I stayed to watch until the last flowers had been placed over the mound of fresh dirt so I could testify to them, in those strange days of doubt, that I had seen their mother or daughter or husband to rest. I stayed behind to pray silently for all involved. I had no prayers this day, just a devastating ache.
People are going to drink tomorrow. St. Patty’s Day is after all, one of our great opportunities for taverns to profit. And other people will lose their children. And it will be beyond me how human beings can be so absorbed in themselves that they make no plans for a designated driver or a taxi. They take no thought for those they are about to endanger – those whose lives they will change forever. And it is not just about the innocent victim, but everyone who knew and loved them. The sorrow they inflict will change the world.
But it will happen. People will drink and drive. People will text and drive. People will race to beat the light. People will consider no one but themselves. And sorrow will be added unto us.
We are far from the kingdom of God.