“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”
— Outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper to Sheriff Rooster Cogburn in the movie “True Grit”
OK, so I’m no Rooster Cogburn. There would likely be considerable debate as to whether I’ve got grit, should it ever come up in polite discussion. And for the sake of full disclosure, I have two eyes, though my vision, at best, is poor.
Still, the quote above was in my head as I addressed a gathering of students at Elkhorn Valley High School recently. I was there to urge them to be safe near power line construction, and (especially when driving in the area) to expect more traffic than usual on country roads.
As I began my presentation, I even commented to them something along the line of: “I know right now you are asking yourself, ‘Why should you listen to this fat, old guy?’”
I think it is because of experience, I answered my own question. Because, if a single tragedy can be averted by what we say and think about today, then that’s success. And, I said, because I’ve learned over the years that things that happen “stick with you.”
With the season being what it was, I’d been thinking about football.
I told them about a game I played in many years ago. Ironically, I was at safety (not necessarily trying to stick to my presentation’s theme … sometimes that’s just how things work out), and the Stromsburg Viking running back popped into the open. For some reason I’ve never quite figured out, I didn’t come up and hit him with a hard tackle; instead, I just reached. He slipped out of my grasp and went on to ramble a long ways for a touchdown.
We lost the game by two points. It was my fault.
I still remember, I told the students in the clean, well lit Elkhorn Valley High School auditorium. Almost four decades later, I still remember, and it was just a high school football game. Imagine how it would be if some decision you make, now, leads to a tragic accident, I wondered aloud. Imagine how THAT would stick to you.
I told them of a young woman I know who was sitting in her college writing class when her phone beeped with a text message. Her younger sister had been texting a friend who was driving a gravel road into town so the two of them could attend a volleyball game together. The texting just stopped, the younger sister’s message read. It just stopped. OMG.
The texting just stopped, the younger sister’s message read. It just stopped. OMG.
Later, the older sister told me she had felt a cold chill go down the back of her neck when she read her sister’s note. She knew something bad had happened. She was right. The girl who was driving into town never made it. She lost control of her car while texting and died at the scene.
Imagine, now, I said to the wonderful, vibrant, LIVING children of Elkhorn Valley High School, imagine how that younger sister feels today, even a few years after the event, thinking she had likely contributed to the death of her friend. It was just an accident, a moment that flashed by so quickly. A blink of an eye. It will haunt her for the rest of her life. Things stick with you, I said. That’s what this old, fat guy has learned. We should try to minimize our regrets, when we can.
Safety is ALWAYS the right decision.