A light was extinguished this past Saturday afternoon, at approximately 2:15 pm, on a highway on the edge of my hometown.
It was the end of a gorgeous spring day for the classic car show the men’s group of my church sponsors every last Saturday of March to provide for college scholarships and a variety of community ministries. The temperature was low 70s and breezy, with lots of sunshine, beach music and great cars. We generally have every make and model from Model Ts through ’30s coupes, ’40s sedans, several rarities, a few trucks, but oh, the muscle cars. GTOs, Cutlasses, Corvettes, and my favorite, Mustangs. Some are stock, some chopped, some restored. Many of them purr, a lot of them roar and growl. This year we even had a restored motor boat, all wood hull, in pristine condition. We had a record number of entries and raised a record amount of money. The mood was light, the air filled with the smells of hotdogs, hamburgers, and bologna sandwiches off the grill, and there were plenty of ice cold soft drinks. Admiration, stories, and laughter filled the day.
At 2:00 we awarded trophies, took photographs, cheered and applauded all the hard work and loving care that went into these amazing pieces of technology, and the show was over. Engines revved, mufflers grumbled, and everyone headed toward home.
Two of our drivers did not get home though. And one never will.
About two miles down the road another driver crossed the center line and struck a restored 1970 Mustang, went airborne and flipped several times, striking and taking the top off a 1970 Roadrunner, coming to rest several hundred feet down the road. The classic car driver was declared dead at the scene. The other two drivers were transported to the local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The accident is still under investigation.
The morning began with hope. Who would win the trophies? What beautiful cars would we see and what fun stories would we hear?
The day was filled with joy. So much laughter, so many shared experiences, so many good memories, delicious food, great music, success with fund-raising to be able to help many people.
The day was peaceful, despite the rumbling, roaring motors. The sunshine baked us all while the spring breeze cooled us. No one rushed. We were just there, relishing the moment.
And yet, one less light shone into the night. I don’t know any of the drivers involved in the accident, but feel tremendous sadness for their families. One lost his car, the result of countless hours of work, a prized possession of a lifetime, and at least for awhile, peace of mind as he makes his way down the road. One lost what had been a relatively carefree existence, as well as her vehicle, and will spend the rest of her days knowing she was responsible for this horrible accident that took an innocent life. And there is that lost life.
When I hear a story like this it always tends to renew my fears, especially for my children, all grown and daily on the road in their own vehicles. I caution them regularly, “Be careful. Keep your eyes on the road. Watch out for the other guy, both oncoming and behind you. Stay alert. Always check twice. Check that blindspot and check it again. Drive defensively. Left-right-left again…”, as though if I can warn against it, it won’t happen. And yet, in a case like this, they can do everything right and still not be able to anticipate and prevent an accident. So what to do?
Do we hide out in the house? Become hermits in order to avoid the chance of a roadway accident? Do we insist on doing all the driving, trying to stay in control of our fate? Do we miss opportunities because of the roads between us and them? Where does good decision-making and careful driving end, and fear take over? And do these fears spill over into other areas of our lives?
Do we avoid starting a relationship because it might crash and burn sooner or later? Do we decline a different career path because we might not like it any better than the one we are now traveling? Do we stay in the same house because it’s so much trouble to move even though we’ve always dreamed of living at the beach, in the mountains, on a lake, in a cozy neighborhood or surrounded by forest? Are we forsaking the pursuit of joy, hope, peace and light because of fear of the unknown and untried? Or because of fear of the known and tried?
One of my favorite musical duos, Seals and Crofts, released a song in 1973, “We May Never Pass This Way Again.” In it they sing,
Like Columbus in the olden days, we must gather all our courage.
Sail our ships out on the open sea. Cast away our fears,
And all the years that come and go, will take us up, always up.
The man who died in that wreck last Saturday will never pass this way again, but as his friends said, he died doing what he loved. I have laughed with a comedian who says, “I don’t want to die doing what I love. I want to die doing what I dislike so I can get out of it.” While I agree with his point, today it gives me a sobering peace to know that at the moment he passed from this life to the next, that driver had gathered his courage, and was pursuing joy. His light is now carried by the family and friends he left behind, providing hope and encouragement in a painful and bewildering time.
May we all sail our ships out on the open sea, and cast away our fears in all the years that come and go, despite the dangers, despite the risk, despite the known, and the unknown, with hope for peace and joy in this life, and the next.