Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Invincibility of Youth

The news was both shocking and tragic. A group of young adults had somehow entered the Canada Olympic Park in Calgary overnight, and taken their own toboggan down the bobsled run. Undoubtedly it was conceived of as a great prank, a moment of teenage enthusiasm for what was also undoubtedly a bad idea. The tragic part is that they had no idea how bad an idea it would turn out to be, as they hit a gate on the way down the run, injuring several and killing two of the young adults.

I read it with horror, as I have my own teenage charge in my life and while she exhibits generally good judgement I know how young adults can be. I know this because I was one once, and a reckless one at that. But my horror on reading this news was compounded by the adults who also read it and shared it on social media calling the young adults in question "morons", "idiots" and "stupid".

All I could think was there but for the grace of god/luck/whatever deity you choose, go I, as there is no way I should have survived my young adult years.

Show of hands: how many of you did something stupid as a young adult? This can range from getting into a vehicle with someone you suspected might be intoxicated to street racing to trespassing to the variety of other things that seemed like a good idea at the time. How many of us did things that could have ended in serious injury or death?

I see a lot of hands, people.

Mine are both in the air. I think back to the times my best friend, who was from a small town in rural Saskatchewan, and I went "bump riding" with her friends, which meant taking the back country roads at top speed in fast cars to "get air" and feel like we were flying, if just for a moment. I think back to spinning donuts in parking lots while taking turns lying on top of a car, hanging onto the roof racks, the car increasing in speed every turn. I think back to all the times we trespassed on private property to pull pranks (ever heard of tipping cows?) and all the times we made decisions that now stun me in their complete lack of understanding of potential consequences.

How easily we could have been injured. How easily we could have died. I remember the times I felt my grip on those roof racks loosening, fearing I would fall off, but never thinking about what would or could truly happen if I did. We were so lucky.

We were so lucky, until the moment we were not. For my friends and I that luck ended one summer night. I was at home hours away while my small town friends were at a bush party just outside their town. There was alcohol, I'm sure, and there were a lot of kids, and there were dirt bikes, and then there was a collision between two dirt bikes on a gravel road. Two were killed. One lingered in a coma for months. One was badly injured and disfigured for life. They were in Grade 12, and I was in first year university.

Our belief in our own invincibility ended that night. Many things ended then, including a slow dissolution of that friendship I had treasured. We all changed forever in the seconds it took for two dirt bikes to collide on a back country road. None of us were ever the same again. I have shared that story with my daughter in the hope that she would understand the consequences of such decisions, but then again she is young and like me at her age I imagine she believes she is invincible. Such is the reality of youth.

It is so easy as an adult to look at the actions of young adults and call them idiotic or stupid or moronic. We fail to remember our own young adult years, perhaps. We fail to understand that young brains have not finished developing, and make decisions adult brains would consider far differently. We forget what it was  like to feel invincible and immortal, to feel like we were flying and could never fall to earth.

Today I learned the young adults killed in Calgary were twin brothers, leaving behind grieving parents, a sister and a circle of family and friends who must have loved them dearly. When I saw their photos my heart hurt so deeply, taking me back to the morning over thirty years ago when I got a phone call telling me two friends had been killed in a dirt bike accident. I felt no compunction to pass judgment on their actions then and I do not today. Instead I feel nothing but sorrow and sympathy.

Perhaps - just perhaps - we could put aside the impulse to condemn the actions and remember what it was like to be young. Failing that perhaps we could simply understand the sort of grief others are experiencing right now.

Compassion is a gift we can give freely - it costs us nothing. I simply hope we can be rich in compassion, my friends. The world could use far more of it and far less condemnation. I believe each and every one of us hopes for compassion from others.

There but for the grace of God and/or luck go I. That, my friends, is the beginning of the road to compassion. I hope we all consider travelling it.

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