Chris Johnson

Before the fatal crash, she was smiling — and it was because of him

High school is full of difficult lessons. Chemistry, algebra, geometry, British literature — all were tough for me. Heck, I even had trouble with the world’s most demanding typing teacher my freshman year of high school.

(For you young folks reading this, yes, we actually once had classes in a primitive activity called “typing” in which you used all of your fingers to create words and sentences on a loud machine. This was, of course, long before the current day of creating misspelled words and incomplete thoughts with your thumbs on a smartphone. And the only time you typed “LOL” was when you accidentally left your pinky on the shift key while trying to type the words “lob” or “lot.”)

Just as difficult are the other lessons you learn in high school. You learn that you will be lumped into categories by most folks based upon what kind of clothes you can afford, what you look like or what you drive — or what your parents are driving when they drop you off.

It’s hard enough to absorb world history and figure out why we care about Mesopotamians when you’re trying to figure out where to sit in the lunchroom without either getting killed or getting subjugated to second-class citizen for the rest of your life.

But there’s one lesson that high-school-aged kids have to deal with, unfortunately, every year — the lesson that life is fleeting.

On Friday, my son lost one of his best friends in a car accident. It’s a too-familiar story each school year — kids, so full of promise and loved by so many, are gone in an instant. Sometimes, they do themselves in by texting and driving or drinking and driving. Other times, it’s just a freak accident or someone else’s fault. It’s just as tragic no matter how they are lost.

As parents, we live with the constant fear that something terrible could happen to our children. We have heart palpitations when our 16-year-olds drive off alone behind the wheel for the first time — and for the 88th time. My mom still makes me call when I fly to let her know the plane didn’t crash … and I’m 46! I try not to let her know I’m flying anywhere until I’ve come home, denying her the motherly duty of worrying.

But teenagers don’t live with that constant fear in the back of their minds that something terrible can happen. They are hit with the double-whammy of extreme pain and complete shock.

When my son recalled the last time he saw his friend the afternoon she lost her life, he said he did some silly dance in the hallway of school just to get a reaction out of her. It worked. She laughed and smiled. The last time he saw her face, she was smiling — and she was smiling because of him.

There is no good way to lose anyone, be they a family member or a friend. But some ways are worse than others. Anyone who recalls their last words spoken to someone as being done in anger or hate knows what I mean.

Imagine if we treated everyone — especially our friends and families — as if you were not going to see them tomorrow or ever again. You never know when that might actually be the case.

And there are worse things to haunt you than a friend’s smiling face.

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