Life With Meaning

 

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.

There are 28 comments.

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  1. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Caryn,

    When someone dies we Jews say “Baruch Dayan Emet”. Gd is the true judge. It means just as you say.

    Let this dear, sweet girl, permitted only 16 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, move the world? We’ll never know. But in the grand Divine plan, it will be known and someday, somewhere we too may know.

    Don’t be cross with her over the selfie. What two happy young people of their age could keep from all such joyous exuberance? What parent could clamp down so tightly on them to erase all such exuberance? Why has Gd acted thus?

    Baruch Dayan Emet. Someday, somewhere we too may know.

    So sorry to hear of your loss.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #1
  2. KiminWI Member
    KiminWI
    @KiminWI

    With this essay you have touched even more lives than the 9 who received her organ donations. I am sorry for your loss and pray for peace and comfort for all those missing Morgan.

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Dear Caryn, I am so very sorry. I can tell the pain is excruciating. To lose one so young is devastating. Thank you for sharing your experience and the lessons to be learned. My most heartfelt sympathies, Susan

    • #3
  4. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    James, Kim, Susan,

    Thank you for your kind and comforting words.  I do hope that this essay will touch and move people, even if it’s just to recall how quickly life can end and then we look at those we love and treat them gently and hold them more closely.

    Omigosh, that’s kind of a run-on sentence!  Let me know if I need to untangle it.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Caryn:James, Kim, Susan,

    Thank you for your kind and comforting words. I do hope that this essay will touch and move people, even if it’s just to recall how quickly life can end and then we look at those we love and treat them gently and hold them more closely.

    Omigosh, that’s kind of a run-on sentence! Let me know if I need to untangle it.

    It’s a poem. And quite clear. Thanks.

    • #5
  6. Patrickb63 Coolidge
    Patrickb63
    @Patrickb63

    Caryn, my heart breaks for you and your family.  My youngest, my beautiful Beth, was also born in 2000 and will soon be 16.  I do not know what I would do if I lost her, and I cannot imagine how you and your family are dealing with this.  That her parents thought of others in the midst of their tragedy, is a testament to their strength.    May peace find all of your family’s troubled hearts.

    • #6
  7. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Patrickb63:Caryn, my heart breaks for you and your family. My youngest, my beautiful Beth, was also born in 2000 and will soon be 16. I do not know what I would do if I lost her, and I cannot imagine how you and your family are dealing with this. That her parents thought of others in the midst of their tragedy, is a testament to their strength. May peace find all of your family’s troubled hearts.

    Just hold her a little closer.  And maybe, if you think it appropriate, have her read the essay.  Morgan’s mother has been amazing.  She is shattered, as would be expected, but has been kind and loving and accepting, especially to the poor young man who was driving the car.  The family has embraced him and loved him and his family in a way that has been amazing to observe.  The lack of anger towards him, combined with genuine concern for his emotional well-being are a real credit to the family’s religious faith and loving-kindness.

    • #7
  8. Richard Finlay Member
    Richard Finlay
    @RichardFinlay

    The death of a young family member is tragic.  My sincere sympathy to you and to her immediate family.  That they are able to understand and forgive the driver is truly moving.

    • #8
  9. Patrickb63 Coolidge
    Patrickb63
    @Patrickb63

    Caryn:

    Patrickb63:Caryn, my heart breaks for you and your family. My youngest, my beautiful Beth, was also born in 2000 and will soon be 16. I do not know what I would do if I lost her, and I cannot imagine how you and your family are dealing with this. That her parents thought of others in the midst of their tragedy, is a testament to their strength. May peace find all of your family’s troubled hearts.

    Just hold her a little closer. And maybe, if you think it appropriate, have her read the essay. Morgan’s mother has been amazing. She is shattered, as would be expected, but has been kind and loving and accepting, especially to the poor young man who was driving the car. The family has embraced him and loved him and his family in a way that has been amazing to observe. The lack of anger towards him, combined with genuine concern for his emotional well-being are a real credit to the family’s religious faith and loving-kindness.

    Caryn, I sent it to my daughter and my 17 y/o son.  That was a good idea.  Thanks.

    • #9
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Caryn: To me these suggest a series of small errors, ones that perhaps we each make every day. I wear my seatbelt… yet I have taken it off as a passenger on a highway to reach something on the backseat. Of course, I put it right back on. Perhaps that’s all she did…. 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?… Had he been 38 instead of 18, he might have had the experience as a driver to recognize…. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. For a few weeks I blamed her… but, as I said, I’ve done it too… Now, I’m not mad at her, just profoundly sad at losing her, my niece.

    We are vigilant to minimize, not eliminate, our opportunity for calamity, and we pray dumb luck does the rest once we’ve lowered the odds. Usually it does. Not always. I am so sorry for your loss!

    Like you, I am glad that her organs at least can live on for others, and if something like that happened to me, I would hope that mine would, too.

    • #10
  11. Merina Smith Member
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Such a beautiful young Lady. I’m so sorry, Caryn.  One of my children received a donated cornea, and we are forever grateful to the grieving family that allowed our daughter to see. I pray for peace and comfort for your family.

    • #11
  12. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Merina Smith:


    Such a beautiful young Lady. I’m so sorry, Caryn. One of my children received a donated cornea, and we are forever grateful to the grieving family that allowed our daughter to see. I pray for peace and comfort for your family.

    Merina,

    Thank you for sharing that.  It’s like hearing it from one of the 9 she helped.

    To all of you who responded–and those who read and didn’t–thank you for your kind and supportive comments and thoughts.  I had hoped this essay might be promoted to the Main Feed, where it might have been read by even more people and where it could have been read by outsiders.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  If any of you have an idea where else I might submit the essay to get it some notice, I’d appreciate the lead.

    • #12
  13. Matt White Member
    Matt White
    @

    Caryn:

    Merina Smith:


    Such a beautiful young Lady. I’m so sorry, Caryn. One of my children received a donated cornea, and we are forever grateful to the grieving family that allowed our daughter to see. I pray for peace and comfort for your family.

    Merina,

    Thank you for sharing that. It’s like hearing it from one of the 9 she helped.

    To all of you who responded–and those who read and didn’t–thank you for your kind and supportive comments and thoughts. I had hoped this essay might be promoted to the Main Feed, where it might have been read by even more people and where it could have been read by outsiders. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. If any of you have an idea where else I might submit the essay to get it some notice, I’d appreciate the lead.

    We can encourage people to click the recommend button.

    • #13
  14. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Caryn, thank you for this; it’s a beautiful and heart-breaking piece. The picture is fantastic, too: such a big, open smile and a confident pose. Not ashamed to say I blubbered up as I was editing it.

    I’m going to post this around on the interwebs as well.

    • #14
  15. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    The other day, a big brown paper bag fell off a truck in front of me and onto the road. Immediately, a driver ahead of me stopped to move it. When the man struggled to roll it, I realized the paper bag was actually a 50-pound landscaping stone.

    Driving is a dangerous business which relies on so many split-second decisions. I take more time to look for oncoming traffic since being in a wreck that crumpled by car to a bent driver’s seat only.

    Thanks for the reminder. My prayers.

    • #15
  16. KC Mulville Member
    KC Mulville
    @KCMulville

    Caryn, take comfort in the fact that you’ve helped her touch people’s lives.

    My prayers …

    • #16
  17. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    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.

    On the other hand … just to take Devil’s advocate …

    I follow an ever-growing list of safety measures every day in just the fussy way suggested here.  Every time I make a mistake, or see or hear of someone else making a mistake, that could lead to danger of some kind, I add to that list to avoid the mistake, and the danger, in the future.  I’ve been around a while, so the list is quite long.  It drives my family crazy, and most people I know simply will not or cannot (maybe because they can’t keep such a long list of fussy rules in mind at once) maintain such a list and live by it.  I seem to enjoy being this fussy, so I can manage this without it detracting too much from living a happy life, but it would make most people miserable.

    • #17
  18. GirlFriday Member
    GirlFriday
    @GirlFriday

    How timely. I updated my DL address yesterday (we bought a house!) and on the form is a tick box for organ donor. I’ve always checked yes, not often considering the ramifications. I think this is a good reminder. My condolences.

    • #18
  19. Vicryl Contessa Thatcher
    Vicryl Contessa
    @VicrylContessa

    So sorry for your loss. But what a wonderful example of how she will live on and touch the lives of dozens of people. Organ donation is so important. I worked with many patients during my rotation in CVICU and Lung Transplant that were sitting on ECMO waiting for a heart or lung transplant. I think it’s tremendous that we have the technology to take a tragic, sometimes senseless death and give life to others. What a gift that her parents chose to allow their tragedy to let someone else live.

    • #19
  20. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Several people who are close to me have died in the last week. But they all lived full lives first.

    Such loss at a young age is so incredibly tragic.

    As a father of teenagers, I try not to even think of how stupid I know they can be…

    • #20
  21. Marion Evans Member
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    So sorry for your loss. So sad and incomprehensible. We cannot caution young people enough.

    • #21
  22. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Thank you Caryn for posting. I will forward it. My heart is aching for you and your family. Hugs and prayers.

    • #22
  23. lone conservative Member
    lone conservative
    @loneconservative

    Caryn —

    Thank you so much for sharing what you and your family are going through. My 15 year old drives me nuts at times, but she is a precious gift that the Lord has given and your post has been a timely reminder.

    I’ll be praying for your, your nieces parents and her boyfriend and you walk through the valley of the shadow. Hugs to you.

    Diane

    • #23
  24. Pugshot Member
    Pugshot
    @Pugshot

    Thank you, Caryn, for posting this. It reminds me to take a moment before I start driving to set my Audible book and get it started, rather than trying to do so as I drive. I’m also going to set this post aside so I can bring it out and share it with my grandson and granddaughter when they start driving. My prayers go out to your family.

    • #24
  25. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Omigosh!  Thank you all for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers.  I had thought the post lost in the crush of Convention news and nonsense, not to mention the deadly serious terrorism and threats to police and peace.

    Thank you, Tom Meyer, if you’re the one who promoted this to the Main Feed, and to all of you that recommended it.  I love the thought of the essay being seen more widely for all of the reasons you all have enumerated.

    Again, thank you all.  Writing the essay was a tearful experience, as I’m sure you can imagine, but reading all of the words of kindness and encouragement is heart-warmingly similar.  Blessings to you all and may you never experience such loss.

    • #25
  26. Acook Member
    Acook
    @Acook

    Dennis Prager, who is a very wise man, has spoken recently about how easy it is for life to be lost in an incredible instant, and cautions us all to be careful, since none of us get a “do-over.” A hard lesson to be learned first hand.

    Thank you for this post, and my sincere sympathies.

    • #26
  27. Liz Member
    Liz
    @Liz

    Caryn, I’m sorry for your terrible loss. Sometimes families do hear from people who received organ donations. Even if you don’t, I hope the thought of Morgan’s gift of life to so many brings some measure of comfort to you and your family.

    • #27
  28. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Out of the blue, my wife Caryn’s post received two likes and stirred up some sad memories.  We are coming up on the third anniversary of Morgan’s death.   It was shortly after that tragedy, that I became a Ricochet member.

    Six months before Morgan’s accident, she came over to our house for an afternoon so that I could paint a small portrait of her.  Since her family had moved 500 miles away from us about ten years previously, It was an opportunity for us to get acquainted better and for me to catch up with all her activities, which included bike racing, movie-making(!) and a variety of physical sports.  We did a lot of talking during the painting session, which kept a happy expression on her face, not an easy thing to do when posing for hours at a time.   I signed the picture with my middle name which is who I am known by to my family members.    It was a short time, but I am so thankful that I had that opportunity to re-connect with her.

    Thanks again to all the people who offered your comments and condolences!

    • #28

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