Many things have taken place since I started this blog 12 months ago. First and foremost, what I’ve written has changed me! Besides helping me deal with personal challenges, it has provided the opportunity to discover, refine, and articulate my message. And to hold myself accountable to write with authenticity. However, I could never have foreseen the depth of commitment that would grow out of my need to express myself here!
While encouraging others to speak up, the purpose and platform for my own words has become increasingly apparent. I now feel empowered to say a resounding “Not ME!” in the face of circumstances where, at times, it feels like it would be easier to give up. Especially when I’m tempted to tell myself that a single voice can’t possibly make any real difference!
I’ve also experienced a profound truth. When the message is honest, and passionately persuasive, a single voice doesn’t remain a single voice for long. Several who have heard my testimony have become champions for the cause, coming alongside to ensure that others are given the chance to hear. People around me are contributing expertise, logistical assistance, and funding. And as their support multiplies, the opportunities to get the word out are increasing!
I’ve become completely convinced that I can never be the one who is merely made heartsick by the devastating statistics. I can’t wallow in feeling sorry for myself, and let it sap precious energy that can be put to a much better use. I simply won’t allow myself to be too uncomfortable to talk about a topic that is very hard to share. I refuse to let myself fear that the problem is too big and complex to be significantly impacted by just one voice! NOT ME! I will not be deterred!
That, being said, I’m thrilled to report that my first community outreach to young drivers was a huge success. It was the kind of day, in early November, that reminds us here, in southern New Mexico, exactly why we love this place! Pleasant temperatures and sunshine made the outdoor space in which we would meet inviting. Enthusiastic students, ages 14-18, arrived and enjoyed visiting and snacking. I’m always invigorated and energized to be around a group of young people! They are so resourceful and hold high hopes for the future. Ready to take on the world!
We gathered in a peaceful courtyard, and I spoke to the teens and parents about our experience and how it has prompted me to share with young drivers. I introduced myself by telling of them about high-school sweethearts who married nearly 50 years ago, and all the things Jim and I have enjoyed doing over that time. Because we don’t have children, we really have been one another’s everything. And then, in a fraction of a second, we nearly lost our future together!
We are extraordinarily fortunate that Jim even survived such a catastrophic collision! Not only can he walk, albeit with difficulty; he is still able to ride his bike! Residual effects of a closed head injury are minimal. We are incredibly grateful for every single day together! Yet, that does not negate the reality of the many challenges that are part of life with a spinal-cord injury.
Next, I read the letter I recently composed, entitled “Dear 17-year-old Driver”. (The letter is included in an earlier blog, posted on October 11, 2021.)
It’s intensely emotional for me to describe the wreck and Jim’s injuries, but those things are a vital part of our story. They must be shared! Those details are, in fact, the real-life illustration that adds the weight of validity to my presentation. And my willingness to be transparent serves to enhance my credibility. Watching their faces, it was evident that everyone was deeply moved.
I included a few eye-opening statistics specifically related to teen drivers; in particular, the high percentage of crashes attributed to distracted driving by young drivers. I pointed out that it is those very facts that represent the potential for a completely different situation going forward!
I candidly voiced my disappointment in “my generation” who have not been able to reverse the trend of ever-increasing motor-vehicle deaths and injuries. On the other hand, these youth can be the ones to take charge of leading us all into a smarter and safer “tomorrow”. With determination on their parts, things can look 100% different over the coming years!
There are certainly a great many factors that contribute to distracted driving. However, the biggest culprit, by far, is irresponsible use of cell phones. It has become epidemic in our society, and the resultant carnage is at epidemic levels! At particular risk are “vulnerable road users”; people, like my Jim, who lack the protection of being in a motor vehicle. Bicyclists, pedestrians, roadwork crews, children, motorcycle riders, and the handicapped – All are hurt and killed in disproportionate numbers. However, the reality is that everyone we share the road with is vulnerable when we drive distracted!
My own personal commitment is to not use my cell phone at all when I’m behind the wheel of a vehicle. I even zip my phone into a little bag, so I won’t be tempted to grab it, even for a second.
It's a message I sincerely believe in, and one I’m determined to communicate it to young people in my community and beyond. I refuse to allow my cell phone to put others and myself at risk, and I’m asking these young people to do the same. Truly, it’s not a big thing to put aside cell phones. A minor “inconvenience” at most, and easily accommodated. If enough people agree to put phones away this, in and of itself, will make an enormous, life-saving difference!
I think it’s imperative to communicate that I don’t consider the teen driver who hit Jim a bad person. I’m certain there was no malicious intent. However, this was no “accident”. The collision surely could have been avoided. The majority of motor vehicle injuries and deaths are senseless; there are nearly always some way to avoid running into someone. That’s my key point – distracted drivers lose the few second advantage that is necessary for a driver to “steer clear of” potential disaster.
I impressed upon the students my confidence in a new generation making choices that will take us into a far better future. I encouraged them to assume responsibility for themselves and those within their sphere of influence. Every single driver who makes responsible decisions is literally making everyone they share the road with safer. Every one of us needs to accept the fact that our poor choices endanger others. We must recognize that every person’s life and quality of life matter so much more than any call or text ever could. Everyone is somebody’s “everything”!
It was important to make this gathering part of a fun-filled afternoon. And that certainly was the case, thanks to my friends who are local business owners (also parents of teens). Axe throwing was fun and entertaining, enjoyed and appreciated by all! I highly recommend it! I’m collecting a variety of ideas for activities at up-coming gatherings.
Part of my goal is to demonstrate community support for teens who determine to make responsible choices behind the wheel. Everyone went home that day with a bag of goodies which included cards from local businesses redeemable for “freebies”. I loved having the opportunity to introduce the students to TX Department of Transportation’s app, “Teens in the Driver's Seat”, which rewards conscientious driving.
The responsiveness of these young drivers and their families was such an encouragement to me! By this time next year, I hope to have met with many more of my community’s teens. I have launched a website specifically about this outreach: www.VRUnm.org. I hope you’ll check it out. Over time we plan broaden the circle to a larger audience. Perhaps I’ll be able to report, at some point, that we’re sharing the message with every community in New Mexico!
If my experience makes you wish to reach out in your own community, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to do some brainstorming and to share what is working for us.