Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Crime and Punishment

He was a dumb kid, all the time I knew him. Not to be mean about it, but it's true--there are just some people who are not the brightest crayons in the box. Not to say he was stupid or unintelligent, because that's not necessarily true. But certain folks tend to rely on grins rather than guile to make their way through life, and he was one of these folks.

He was an athlete. Talented. Pitched baseball. Quarterbacked football. He was popular and well-liked. His parents were wealthy, so his choice of colleges was unlimited.

But he was a dumb kid, the type of person to make foolish decisions, say foolish things. And in high school, these decisions were small. The consequences never more than an afternoon or two of detention.

I went to school with this kid. I liked him well enough. He was a decent guy. He never treated people badly, never picked on anyone. I spent my four years on good terms with him. Had to. I was the center on the football team, so we had to get to know each other pretty well, because he rarely used the "shotgun" formation. If you know enough about football, you'll gather my meaning.

He was a good kid. Dumb sometimes, but good. I did like him. The few times I've seen his parents since graduation, I've said hello, asked about him. Nice folks. Very friendly.

But since high school, life has gotten more complicated. Decisions still seem small and unimportant, but they have consequences. Deep and lasting ones.

And sadly, he had to find this out the worst possible way, this past spring. He was drinking. He was driving. And he killed someone. An off-duty constable.

This boy, this kid, was sentenced to four years in prison yesterday. Involuntary vehicular manslaughter, or some such charge. If he had plead not-guilty and lost at trial, he would have been given twenty years.

The boy's life is now drastically altered. Careening off-course as his truck had. And the victim beneath its crushing impact is himself.

I knew this boy, this kid with the blond hair and the ladykiller smile. He's less than a year younger than me.

When I read about drunk drivers who kill others, I often spit my contempt at them. "Lock the monster away," I snarl.

But today I know the "monster." And he's not a monster at all. He's a dumb kid whose bad choices have ended one life and ruined many others. And none of it can ever be undone, or completed and ended like an afternoon of detention.

It's a tragedy, and though I'm not as deeply affected as the family and close friends of those involved, I'm still affected. As much by the fact that, but for the grace of Father God, it could have been me making those choices.

Pray for the two families torn apart, if you could. There are no monsters here. Just broken people reaping what was sown, by themselves, their children, and others.

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