Shawn Henfling believes that experience is lifes great educator.
The lessons we learn best in life tend to be those we come by the hardest. Many of us didn’t realize what “HOT” was until we stuck our hands on the stove burner. We learned about electricity from live power outlets. Slippery ice was a foreign concept until a bruised tailbone ruined your day. Physics was just math until that one time some kid got in the middle of the merry go round on the playground and pushed faster and faster until you flew off. Experience is the one of the greatest educators we’ll encounter in our short time on Earth. Death however, teaches us in ways life never will.
Robin Williams taught me innumerable lessons while he was alive. His comedy taught me to laugh and many of his movies taught me about love. His death taught me about myself. Suddenly I saw myself in everything from “Mork and Mindy” to “What Dreams May Come.” I was able to see exactly where my life would lead if I didn’t confront my demons and finally get some help. It wasn’t easy, and the path I followed wasn’t straight. In his death I have, so far, found life. That lesson has been repeated time and again by others afflicted as I have been. In his suicide many of us found meaning. He has become, through his battle and ultimate concession, a hero to many.
With that still fresh in my mind, I awoke this morning to learn that a close friend of my son’s was killed last night. The paper says speed and alcohol were factors. I want to say I’m surprised. I want to say I had trouble believing it. I can’t. The truth is I expected it sooner. The whole truth is that, given his history, I’m surprised and supremely grateful it wasn’t my son.
I’m familiar with the science behind teenage decision making. I understand genetics contributes to behavior. I remember how lucky I am to be alive after some of the ridiculous stunts I’ve pulled. I know all of these things, but as a parent I struggled to reconcile them as my wife and I raised first our son and now our daughter. I watched helplessly as he treated his teenage years as an enormous party. I remember how he raged against us and we against him. I wish it could have been different. I wish he hadn’t had to learn this way.
It sounds callous. As I write this, I wonder what some will think of me. Most of that doesn’t matter though. Many of you will identify with my words. Some will silently agree. A few will comment. My heart bleeds for the families that lost their children. I grieve along with them. But I am grateful. I am grateful that my son wasn’t in the vehicle. I am grateful that he is home, with us, mourning instead of lying in a morgue. I am grateful for the lesson he has hopefully learned.
Through our teenage years, we make life and death decisions daily. For some of us, our bravery (stupidity really) is legendary. Decades later we look back and wonder how it was we managed to survive. We have children and hope they won’t make the same mistakes we did. We read parenting books, speak of consequences, and do our very best. Unfortunately, teenagers will still make bad decisions. It’s part of growing up and life in general. Sadly, it is also a part of death.
From the moment of conception until our light of concsiousness blinks out, life is an endless dance. Like the waltzes of old, life and death are at once close and distant. At any moment either can touch and move us in ways both graceful and abrupt. Today, death touched our home in a way that leaves us searching for answers where there are none. Life and death impart their lessons every day. We simply have to open our minds so that we may learn them. A painful lesson came to my son today. I can only hope he takes it to heart or one day it may be me grieving.
Photo Credit: Jo/flickr