It is easy, from the temperature-controlled comfort of our family room armchairs, to pronounce dispassionately on the foolishness of the recently departed whose failure to weigh risk was the proximate cause of their now-departed status.
Of course, we have the advantage of the lofty perch and the faultless 20/20 rearview mirror.
Still, the sermonizers – particularly those who impart their wisdom in the comments sections attached to news stories – are not without a point. It requires neither a perfect grasp of history nor a flawless crystal ball (nor, for that matter, course credits in first aid and outdoor activities) to understand certain pursuits involve risk and oftentimes those risks can be mitigated through some combination of equipment, skill and behavior, all of it suggested by Sgt. Esterhaus’ enduring admonition to the cops of “Hill Street Blues”: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
It’s easy to preach
But there is little to be gained, as well as something distinctively vulture-like, in these first raw hours to circle over the remains of Brian Kowolski, Dakota Merrell and Orlando mom Beatriz Rosado – to name three lately in the headlines – waggling fingers about flotation devices, helmets and seat belts.
Like with almost all tragic twists of fate, teachable moments will emerge as we better come to understand how each of these three met his/her untimely end. As the Buddhist said, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear; much otherwise useful instruction falls on closed minds, as it probably is just now.
I’m not even going to fuss about what the scolds have so far had to say falling into the category of the patently routine, because that would put me at odds with the novelist George Orwell, who noted in less intellectually compromised times than these that “re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
I’m just saying: Pause. Wait a while. Let things settle. There is no prize – beyond, I suppose, an inestimable boost to one’s self-satisfaction – for being first to regurgitate the Coast Guard’s recommendations regarding small watercraft and life vests. This presumes, at minimum, two falsities: That Kowolski’s family and friends won’t spend their mortal eternities tortured by this failure of a simple safety procedure; and anyone reading the account of the 39-year-old Trinity outdoorsman’s heroics didn’t already wonder about the absence of details regarding lifesaving apparatus.
But just as it is human nature for grown-ups who consider themselves capable swimmers to resist slipping on life vests against the unlikely scenario of unexpectedly winding up in the water, so we hate to miss an opportunity to expose our (presumed) superior insights in the frothy deep water of news junkies. (Insert over-their-heads joke here.)
Sensitivity is best
Certainly it would be more useful – at least marginally – not to mention kinder to reserve hectoring for another day.
But it takes uncommon gumption to resist brandishing the gut-grinding example of Hudson’s poor Dakota Merrell, forever 16, who managed to get himself into the path of a Chrysler aboard his ATV on U.S. 19 the other day, especially if there are teens in your household.
On that front, I am reminded of an uncle, a trauma surgeon, who had a standing invitation to all his nephews who expressed an interest in owning a motorcycle (his nieces were wiser) to spend a few Friday nights observing biker carnage in his emergency room. We all declined, our two-wheeler adventures never progressed beyond Schwinns.
In short, there’s a time for presenting educational examples.
If we demand an immediate lesson from these three, let it be this: Life’s only guarantee is that there are no guarantees. Tomorrow is not promised.
This does not mean we should put a lid on our joie de vivre, only that we should be sensible in how we go about it, and sensitive to the memory of those who learned the hard way about life’s guarantees.