OXFORD, England – While I was home this past weekend I ran into a couple of friends from high school. We of course chatted, tried to catch up on things. Employing my newly attained age of majority, we went down to the local Irish pub and relaxed. We talked for a while about things long forgotten and finally stumbled around to talking about a mutual friend who had died in a drunk-driving accident our senior year. I hadn’t been close to her, but I remembered her as someone I had liked and respected. Kate was a great basketball player and a bright girl, the typical Williams student. She had had a scholarship. She died three weeks before the prom.
Anyway, we all talked about Kate for a while, trying to honor her memory on the anniversary of her death. Finally, the conversation came to an end and we each finished our third pint and headed out to our cars. I got in mine, sat down and as I was about to start the car, I caught a whiff of my own breath. It was then that I actually thought about what I was doing.
Here I was, about 135 pounds, with 3 pints in me, about to drive. I had skipped dinner that night and my tolerance isn’t all that high to begin with. I decided that a walk might serve me better than a drive at that point.
The irony of the situation hit me as I walked. Here I was, remembering a person’s life, but forgetting the lesson that she’d imparted through her death. It got me thinking a little. I remembered other times. I’ve gotten into the car numerous times with my brother when I know he’s had too much to drink. I know there have been times when I shouldn’t have driven, but I have anyway.
What’s more, it’s not the extreme cases but the borderline ones that are really troubling. When one is thoroughly inebriated, it’s generally pretty easy to take the keys or to realize yourself that you shouldn’t be driving. It’s the times when you’ve had only a couple, feel fine and figure that feeling extends to your driving abilities as well. Those are the dangerous cases and those are the ones that we’ve probably engaged in. At least, I know I have.
But that’s not all that really bothered me. Sure, drunk driving is wrong and dangerous, but that’s not a particularly hard call. What was troubling was that someone I had known reasonably well had died, and I hadn’t gotten the message. Not only was this rather pathetic on my part, but disrespectful as well. The least I could do was take something from the experience, but I didn’t. And, I don’t think anyone else did either. I remember the funeral, the tears and the prayers. That will always be in my memory. But what really hit home was the following weekend. Same stuff, same stupidity. Maybe it’s part of being young and invincible. I don’t really know.
But what I do know is that I’m getting older and probably less invincible too. So, I’ll going to try to learn something. Even if the lesson is a little delayed. It’s not much, but it’s all I can really do. At the very least it’s a sign of respect.