Saturday, November 22, 2008
This morning I stepped right into the routine. I staggered out of bed at 4:30 am and let our dog, Ida, outside. I stood on the patio and braced myself with the chill morning air. The sky was clear and dark as it can only be when the moon is down. The stars were in their glory, shining the brighter for the darkness. As I stood there taking it all in, wondering what the day would bring despite my efforts to order it and keep it all safely predictable, I saw what we used to call a falling star streak across the sky. Falling star, meteor, or space junk? A sign? A portent for a day already fraught with significance, or just another piece of meaningless debris from the unknown reaches of space, disintegrating in the atmosphere before it can be identified?
Nine months. It was on a day that began much like this one nine months ago that we received the news that Rachel had been killed. There were signs, but I could not read them. That night there had been a lunar eclipse. It began to rain. I don't believe in signs. But I do believe it is human to try to connect the dots, to make constellations out of the scatter-shot of stars, to impose where we cannot recognize some significance, some bigger picture.
I dreamed last night of a powerful spirit being, a force of nature personified, that attacked the restaurant I was in (O.K. it was Carl's Jr., if you must know), ripping the roof off and hurling it at the structure - at me. It was a towering, dark pillar of cloud, like a tornado, vaguely but recognizably human in shape. And it had a name. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I could not speak it, and all my efforts to identify it through research ended in frustration.
That is part of the struggle. Is there some personal force behind the seemingly random and impersonal calamities we suffer? Is it a personal attack? Can the assailant be identified and named?
Nine months. The time it took to produce and reveal the miracle of Rachel's life. Of all the terms used to describe that period, I like the word "expectant" the most. It perfectly captures our state. We were waiting for a miracle. But we were not waiting in vain: we were expecting it, anticipating it. We knew this miracle would arrive as surely as the new day, as joyfully as all our childhood Christmases. We marveled as the miracle grew day by day, barely concealed beneath the skin of Jill's swelling belly. We hoped and we wondered. And we were acutely aware of how small a part we played in the magic happening before our eyes. We simply welcomed a child. Love prepared a place, and Rachel grew into it. Of course, when she arrived, she was not what we expected. She was something wholly different, other, new. We do not possess the powers to imagine such a thing. Rachel was a pure gift. We received her and were perfectly, abundantly blessed.
Nine months. We are no longer expecting. This is a period marked by loss. And it is indefinite and terminal. Nothing has been birthed in us but grief in all its aspects, and we expect nothing else. All that we know of the miracle we called Rachel in this life has been revealed. The rest is remembering. What makes it so difficult is that we know what we have lost. There are so many children we could have had. But we do not know to miss or mourn them. We had 18 years to learn how much we loved Rachel. Now she is gone. And that makes all the difference.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
This phrase sums up our approach to the problem of drunk driving: a plea to the common decency and good sense of intoxicated people who would get behind the wheel. I am here to tell you they don't have any, and this approach is pathetically inadequate.
In the months that have elapsed since my daughter Rachel was killed, I have thought long and hard about what it is going to take to keep people from choosing to drive when they are drunk, and prevention is the only satisfactory solution. Our nation is indifferent to the consequences of drunk driving, because most of us are unaffected and believe we are immune. Of course we read stories in the paper everyday, and we think, "What a shame!" When Rachel was killed, the story barely registered in the local newspaper. Because it is such a common occurrence, the story of the life of an innocent, promising, beautiful young lady being senselessly and violently cut short by a drunk driver isn't deemed newsworthy. We don't demand the change required to put an end to the body count. We will not tolerate our freedoms being abridged, until, of course, we are convinced the security of our own live or our loved ones is imperiled. That, of course, is the lesson of the aftermath of 9/11.
Prevention is expensive. And the fact is, people only spend money on what they care about. We can't afford to help the poor AIDS orphans in Africa, but somehow we find the money to pay for our plasma t.v.'s; universal health care is prohibitively expensive, but we can spend trillions of dollars on a pointless war in Iraq and on a bail-out for Wall Street without any debate or public discourse. The public has no idea of the real cost of drunk driving - a price we are already paying. Of course the personal costs are inestimable and catastrophic. But when medical, judicial, penal, social wellfare and productivity costs are tallied the price tag of drunk driving is astronomical. M.A.D.D. reports that in the year 2000 alone, the public paid an estimated 114 billion dollars in costs associated with drunk driving. If we have that kind of money to spend cleaning up the devastation caused by D.U.I., why can't we spend it on the front end and use it to prevent the tragedy in the first place? We would still be out the money, but we just might have our own lives or the lives of our loved ones to show for the investment.
The real problem is indifference. But I can tell you this now as a father who has lost his only and precious daughter to this senseless crime: I would pay any price to have prevented her death; I would sacrifice any "freedom". And you would, too, if you truly believed your life and the lives of your loved ones were imperiled. Unless we do something now to change our approach from and impotent plea to the common decency and good sense of intoxicated drivers to real prevention, we may very well be reading about you or your loved ones next. That is, if the story makes the paper.