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Last summer I was browsing through our towns’ police department Facebook pages because sometimes I like to see a little of what is going on in that circle. It’s very limited, but sometimes they have useful traffic or fire updates, and it’s interesting to see what crimes might be mentioned. One incident that stood out to me was the death of a motorcyclist on one of the main roads. The driver of a pickup had changed lanes into him and knocked him into a box truck. The details were sparse, as you would expect from a simple Facebook post, but the motorcyclist died, and it was hinted as likely the fault of the pickup driver.
Yesterday, I volunteered to be in the church nursery as I had been sick on my normal day and it just so happened that my husband’s aunt had also volunteered and were placed in the same room. I haven’t seen her for a while because she just retired and has been off to places like Kenya, the Philippines, and Missouri. She is one of those involved, social ladies that knows everyone and is generally up to speed on the happenings of our cities. I don’t know how people do that.*
As we chatted she mentioned that a couple from the church had been out riding their motorcycle last Friday and had been hit. Both were alive but were badly hurt. This brought to my mind the accident from the summer so I mentioned that I was glad they survived as the guy from the summer had not. I don’t memorize my exact conversations, but I said something like “I guess the pickup driver just wasn’t paying attention.”
I might have known she knew that pickup driver. It turns out that she had known him for years. He was friends with her daughter and her secretary’s daughter. She knew his mother and relatives. And she knew their side of the aftermath of that accident. Six weeks after the accident, the pickup driver had gone up to one of the highest bridges up north of here and committed suicide by jumping off. There may have been more reasons behind this move than the accident but that was perhaps the tipping point.
But this made me realize that I was thinking of this guy as just a negligent driver. He hadn’t been paying enough attention, shouldn’t have been driving, maybe he was just a jerk or didn’t like motorcyclists (If you spend enough time on Reddit you will hate motorcyclists too). There was yet another incident a few months ago where it was a hit-and-run on a motorcyclist and it’s really hard to look kindly on someone who does that.
But he was a real person, probably in his early thirties, given the age or my aunt’s daughter, I didn’t ask. And his mother is a real person, and suffering real pain, no less real or legitimate than the pain of the family of the motorcyclist. This was a tragedy all around.
I don’t think there is anything profound in this so much as it is simply a reminder to myself that I rarely get enough information from news sources to make good judgments about people. It wasn’t that the Facebook post was wrong or misleading, it was just necessarily limited. People, and life, are much more complicated. I think I’ve been too engrossed in the news of truly evil people who seem to be unredeemable, and I need to remember that even those monsters are people too. It doesn’t excuse the death, nor absolve him of guilt, but he was human with real human needs, desires, and feelings. More information may not change the facts, but it can change the perspective.
I need to consider that.
* I really do not understand how extroverted social people work. She says I have a great memory but she knows everyone in our 1,000 member church as well as so many people throughout the community and she can converse very personally with anyone about anything except maybe physics. I don’t want to give the impression that she’s a gossip. It’s because she legitimately cares about people personally. Sure, she can’t remember their birthday, but she knows them.