Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cars as Lethal Weapons

I don't remember who I first heard refer to a car as a gun...many years ago...decades, even. But I remember it well, because I thought it was a good point.

Whether I'm the kind who thinks we should be able to possess whatever guns we want without any restriction, or whether I'm in favor of more gun control (and I'm not saying which I am)...wherever you and I are on that spectrum, I'm sure neither of us would leave a gun lying around, unlocked, loaded, and cocked. We would take safety precautions.

But every time we get in a car, put our hands on the steering wheel, and push on the gas pedal, we are taking a lethal weapon into our hands. Have you ever almost hit a pedestrian? I have come close, on more than one occasion. And - as some of you know - I have also experienced the fear and pain of a family member being struck by a car and thrown...and airlifted to the hospital. Miraculously, he recovered completely. But 14 months later, in January of 2012, he died in his sleep of natural causes. Did the one follow from the other? The coroner didn't think so; but sometimes I wonder. How much does the medical profession really know about injuries to the brain?  And if it was a rare component of my son's LHON that caused his death, as the coroner thought, could the LHON have been worsened by a severe blow that caused hours of bleeding inside his head? How does that kind of injury affect the mitochondria? How much does the medical profession really know about LHON? And not to worry; I believe my son is in a happy place beyond our imagining, but still, there is a human explanation for his passing, even if we will never know that reason.

After Paul's death - for awhile - if a driver cut me off when I was walking in a parking lot or worse yet, cut off one of my sons, I would literally run after the car to yell at the driver! Yes, this normally-non-aggressive, middle-aged woman was chasing people down.  As I told my family about this, and they reacted with alarm, I began to realize I was endangering my life by chasing on foot after strangers who were wrapped in metal armor.

That thought stopped me from yelling at people, but it was something else that stopped the anger. As I made a left turn one day, paying careful attention to the oncoming traffic to see when I would have a break to go, I forgot to look carefully to my left before turning...and suddenly, there was a pedestrian! It was one of my sons who pointed it out before I saw her, and probably saved her life (and my sanity). I swerved quickly. And I missed her. But not by much. She was crossing where she wasn't supposed to. And she was oblivious to the whole close call...which means she would not have helped to avoid a collision. That scared me badly. But most of all, it humbled me. I've always been a very careful driver, but each of us is ever only human.

It also scares me to think of all the times I've had my hands on a phone while I was driving. What if that had been one of those times? Would I have had enough control of the wheel to swerve quickly enough? I honestly don't think so. And still I am tempted to check that ringing phone to see who just called me. I'm tempted to focus on the oncoming traffic while waiting to make a left turn, instead of also scanning to the left side. I'm tempted to text, at a long, boring stop light...after all, we're stopped, right?...but what do we do with the phone, then, when the light changes? If I say no to the temptation to text at the stop light, then I won't be tempted to continue when I begin to roll again.

The temptations are great and ever-present, and that's why I think we need to keep reminding ourselves of what's at stake: our lives and the lives of others. I'm writing this to remind you, my friends, but I'm also writing it to keep reminding myself, too...not to remind myself of tragedies, my own family's, the one that happened today in our county, or others...although I will never forget those, but to remind us of how important it is to be as ready as possible, as mentally and physically available as possible, in order to deal with the unexpected.

Let's not lock the car in the garage. But let's make sure the safety is on. 

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