Editorial : Choices always
It is always late evening or early morning. There is always a car speeding. There is always alcohol or drugs. Driver and passenger, close friends, had celebrated as young people do the driver's imminent graduation. They were foolish to have done so, as it turns out, but they did not know.
The curving pool of the car's light swept across the scrubby bushes, beneath the still vault of trees, and over the gleaming pavement as the car's bending course left the road to avoid an oncoming car, then hurtled to a deadly stop. The toll, in the most recent such event, is one bright, promising, utterly innocent life lost, another damaged but alive and forever blighted, and a circle of friends, family, and neighbors once again uncertain of what to make of it all.
Usually, at funeral services the dead are remembered by their children, siblings, contemporary friends, and colleagues. But because the lives in these horrifying but all too frequent episodes are unlived and unfulfilled, teachers, godparents, and aunts must speak mostly about the charm, the appetite for life, the achievements that certainly lay ahead.
Contemporaries, undone by the loss, must keep together, dependent on one another's familiar support.
The minister says, in a minister's plain and gentle way, that from now on God will look after the absent child and will comfort and assist the survivor.
But a convivial father and serenely loving mother have had the care of her for years. How can they give her up now? How will her family, friends, teachers, how will this small, densely webbed community comprehend this space that has been created, when we did not expect it? How will the bitter grief be soothed?
Still, life draws all of us back to its ceaseless stream. And, we must consider what shall we bring with us from the graveside? The historian David McCullough, who lives in West Tisbury, discussing his own sense of historical perspective, proposed that his audience reexamine what is commonly called the past.
Consider, he said, that Washington, Jefferson, and Adams did not totter about saying to one another how pleasant it was to be living in the past. They were living in their brief present, just as all of us do.
And, he explained, the course of history, shaped as it is by human decisions, might at any moment have taken another path. A different choice was always possible. Nothing was preordained. Nothing was guaranteed.
God extends mercifully to young people whose choices have foreshortened their lives and limited their contributions, and life may smile broadly and warmly on those who choose carefully and are allowed long and fruitful journeys. Minute by minute, there are choices to be made. The course of history is infinitely changeable. For the survivors, including all of us, many paths lead away from the graveside.