The college where I teach is pretty small – about 180 students total. I have been amazed at how tight knit of a family the campus is and how much the faculty staff truly care about each and every student.
So it came as no surprise that the announcement of a first year student’s death last week had a real impact on the entire campus. I didn’t know this student. I didn’t have her in class. But as a teacher and a parent, her death still left me reeling.
It’s natural in a situation like this to want to want to place blame. She was killed in a car accident driving alone on a rural highway. Was it the other driver’s fault? Was she texting? Could it have been the cold weather and rain? Did a deer jump out in front of her?
As humans, we want and sometimes need to find a reason for what seems to be a senseless tragedy. The loss and grief and what-ifs can be overwhelming, and we need to find a way to come to terms with it.
But I am not a believer that everything happens for a reason. I can’t believe it. I can’t justify away the loss of potential and creativity that this 18 year old girl had by thinking that there was some greater purpose she needed to serve.
Here’s what I know. We all make decisions everyday. We decide to get into a car even though the odds of being in an accident are pretty high. We decide to take the route that will get us to our destination the quickest. We decide to leave at the time we leave. And sometimes those decisions put us in a situation that leads to tragedy. Period.
What helps me make sense of a unexpected loss like this is what I take away from it. I can help my students come to terms with their grief and to remember their friend for the many beautiful things she was. I can remember, and help my students remember, that life is just unfair and too damn short. I can teach my kids to be safe in the car and to always be vigilant about the their safety. I can be aware of how my decisions impact those around me.
I can appreciate every day that I have with my family and remember to tell them I love them. I can appreciate my friends and tell them how much they influence my life. I can live everyday as if there might not be another and not wish away the time I have. I can make time, everyday, to laugh and dance and sing and love.