Thoughts on the SXSW Tragedy

sxsw-2014As you may well know, a drunk driver careened through the streets of Austin very early Thursday morning, killing 2 and injuring many more. I find this quite sobering, for just one night earlier I was there. I had been booked to play trumpet for my friend Matt’s band, and as I walked “safely” in the cordoned off roads of SXSW, being hit by a car never came to mind. Actually, I specifically thought about how wonderful it was to walk carefree through the streets of downtown Austin. I still can’t believe what happened.

It is amazing how many lives can be altered by a single bad action. My heart breaks when I think of those who were injured or killed. One minute, they’re music lovers celebrating in the streets, the next they are statistics. One minute, two people were riding a bicycle and moped down the street, the next minute, their bodies are lifeless, never to ride those streets again. Terrible.

Then there is the driver. The man, drunk, decided it more favorable to drive full speed through roadblocks and citizens than to face a DWI. Now he faces two murder charges and multiple vehicular assault charges. Because of one monumental lapse in judgment, he’ll likely live out his days in prison or gets the ultimate penalty. His life will never be the same.

This is a tragedy. It is bad enough that two lives were lost, many were injured and the culprit is headed to prison, but to think of the families of the injured and killed…it is nearly unbearable. I can only imagine what pain, confusion and torment those close to the deceased must feel and how countless others were affected. All because of one bad decision.

In my recent review of The Lego Movie, I wrote:

The story moves at a fairly brisk pace, and though mostly humorous, the writers manage to convey a terrific “serious” message, namely that everyone is special. Some might think that is a cheesy, pansy thing to tell kids (akin to saying “everyone’s a winner” or giving everyone a trophy even if they lost), but the story doesn’t tell lies. It just reinforces that every individual is unique and has the potential to make a positive impact. I personally think it is incredibly important for kids to know that they truly matter, and I’m glad to see the message in a mainstream movie.

I believe everyone has the potential to make a positive impact on the world. No matter how big, little, ugly, beautiful, smart, stupid, athletic or clumsy a person is, he can always be a force for good. When a tragedy like this happens, I feel that it’s because someone somewhere doesn’t realize just how much he matters. I wish I could go to someone who causes this kind of hurt, grab him by the shoulders and say, “Don’t you realize you are important?! Your actions matter! You don’t have to make these decisions! You can choose a good life!!” Sadly, it is too often the case that we don’t engage enough, so we cannot know a person will make a bad decision until it is too late.

We must get engaged. We must show love and show others they matter. I love Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” We must involve ourselves with each other. Without that, we can be quickly broken. But, if we connect, grow close and grow together, we will not easily be overpowered.

Mr. Rogers often said, when disaster struck, to look for the helpers. They’re the ones comforting, encouraging and supporting the hurt and grieving. Let’s be those people. You and me. And you know what? There are two types of people who need helpers – those who are victims, and those who are villains. Victims need help after disaster, villains need help before. Let’s not wait for disaster to strike. Let’s be preemptive. Let’s take comfort, encouragement and support before disaster strikes. Who knows? Maybe we would transform a possible villain into a fellow helper. 

Now, will being preemptive and engaging others stop every bad thing happening? I don’t think so; in a world suffused with human freedom, it seems there will always be those who choose the “dark side.” But, I think that if we can engage others and show them love, then maybe, just maybe, we can turn some from future tragedy to future joy. 

So, let’s engage. Let’s remind people that they matter. Let’s be helpers. 

Let’s show people they are loved.

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