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No life lacks meaning. No person, however young, dies without touching and moving others. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, this is taught explicitly, with the idea of a soul having a mission to complete (roughly, the Jewish idea) or a Divine plan (broadly speaking, the Christian perspective).
On Monday, June 13th — just a month ago, in the late afternoon — Morgan Malcolm, a delightful, vivacious, sweet, kind, loving 16-year-old girl was in a terrible automobile crash in which she was thrown from the car and sustained a severe head injury. She was comatose, initially reactive to pain, but that diminished over time. Two days later, she was declared brain dead.
The single-car crash that killed her occurred on a rural highway with a speed limit of 50 or 55 mph, two lanes in each direction, a grassy median in the center, and an equally-grassy embankment on the right shoulder. The driver swerved to the left to avoid a box or debris in the lane, causing the driver-side tires to drift onto the grassy median; in response, he over-corrected to the right and the car drove off the road onto the shoulder embankment, rolling several times before it stopped. There is no indication that they were traveling in excess of the speed limit.
The human facts of how she died are as follows: A girl who was careful about wearing a seatbelt (to the point of nagging her step-father to do so) had taken hers off prior to the crash, whether for seconds or for minutes we do not know. The 18-year-old driver, her boyfriend — by all accounts, including her family’s, a safe and responsible driver — was seat-belted and walked away with minor injuries. Her mobile phone was found after the crash with a selfie of her, smiling, taken only four minutes before the crash was reported.
To me, these suggest a series of small errors, the kind we all make daily. Though I wear my seatbelt and insist that all passengers in my car do so — regardless of State law — I have taken it off as a passenger on a highway to reach something on the backseat, though I always put it back on immediately. Perhaps that’s all she did. Only in her case it was for a selfie. (I would like to go on about the selfie-culture and about how pernicious, stupid, and shallow it is and maybe I will do so another time. Perhaps this event speaks all I need to about the practice.)
I suspect the boy — if he was remotely normal — took his attention from the road for the instant that she took the photo. Who among us has never done that? If he hadn’t, perhaps he might have seen the box sooner and reacted more coolly. Perhaps, had he been 38 instead of 18, he might have recognized that hitting the box would have been safer than swerving and over-correction. Perhaps experience would have kept him in the grassy median rather than sending them careening into the shoulder embankment.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps … I don’t blame him for being young and inexperienced. For a few weeks, I blamed her for taking off her seatbelt but, as I said, I’ve done it myself. The selfie thing really bothered me. Now, I’m not mad at her, only profoundly sad at losing her, my niece.
Of course, why she died is beyond any of our comprehension or ability to explain. But, as I said at the beginning, no life can be without meaning or end without touching others. She died in an instant brought about by a convergence of small errors but, in her death, nine people’s lives were saved or improved because her family chose to donate her organs to those who needed transplants.
I hope this essay might touch someone — someones — and encourage them to consider the risk of a moment’s silliness or impatience on the road. Perhaps one, perhaps two, perhaps hundreds of deaths or maimings might be prevented in Morgan’s name.
Let this dear, sweet girl — permitted only sixteen years with us — touch and save lives through the example of her death. Can she touch people who will live, bear children, find the proverbial cure for cancer, and move the world? We’ll never know. But in the grand Divine plan, it will be known. Someday, somewhere we may know, too.