For reasons that may not seem entirely logical, the murders last week in a Colorado movie theatre took me back to something that happened on a Saturday morning in July a few years ago.
I was driving my then-middle & elementary school daughters to their swim meet when a dump truck pulled out just in front of us onto the winding, semi-rural road we were traveling, and I was less than thrilled; I believe my exact words were, “Aw, come on!” One of the girls asked, “What’s wrong?” and I said, “Nothing–but if we had been 10 seconds earlier, we wouldn’t be following that dump truck. It’s fine–we’ll be at the pool in plenty of time for warmups.” We went from making good time to an absolute crawl, but that was no big deal.
About a mile later, we came upon an accident. The dump truck stopped and the driver ran over to see if he could help. My girls were sitting in the back seat and they did not notice anything as we approached, so the dump truck that had seemed like such an inconvenience turned out to be a blessing: When I pulled up behind the truck it became a wall between my kids and the accident.
I told the girls, “I’ll be right back–Stay in the car,” got out, realized we were all first on the scene of an accident that had happened only a minute or two before, and called 911 on my cell. In a few minutes, help arrived from the firehouse less than 2 miles further up the road, and after I answered a police officer’s questions we made a u-turn to find an open route to the swim meet and to go on with our day.
The girls never saw the woman who was lying motionless on the ground. They never saw her shoe in the road about 10 feet away from her. They never saw the horse that was trotting around loose in the field beside the road. They never saw the teen driver pacing back and forth, looking at the person on the ground beside his car, then stalking away a few feet, then returning, struggling with the sight of what had happened. They had no way to know that the victim had been walking her horse across the road when the teen’s car struck and killed her.
Arriving at the same place & time that morning, a woman died and a teenager’s life was scarred–There is no minimizing any of that. But because of a difference of about 10 seconds on the same morning, I was able to talk to the girls about the accident on my own terms over the next day or two, and they will never have the scene that was happening in front of the dump truck as a sad and frightening memory.
Like most parents, when I heard about the Colorado murders I thought about my kids’ safety. I also thought about the fact that as they get older they become more and more aware of news from our local community and from the world beyond. And there are no dump trucks to keep them from seeing dark things when they happen.