Last week my third son was blessed with the opportunity to participate in the "Every 15 Minutes" program at his high school.
When he first told me about it, I didn't want him to do it. There would be no contact with him for a day and a half, we were to pick out pictures and write his obituary for the memorial and receive a mock death notification by the sheriff at our front door! Yikes! That's pretty heavy!!
But it's nothing compared to what those 18 kids were put through in 2 days!
--every 15 minutes the principle announces, over the loud speaker, "May I have your attention, John Smith has just been killed in a drunk driving incident. Time of death, 8:05 am." Then "the grimm reaper" walks in the room and takes that student away. They give up their cell phones and all means of contact with them is cut off until the next day at the assembly.
--at the end of the morning, and all but 4 of the kid's "deaths" have been announced, there's a panicked mock 911 call over the loud speaker. There's been a crash in front of the school. All of the juniors and seniors watch the aftermath. One boy is laying on the hood of the car and all are "bloody" (the make up crew did a fantastic job!) except for the "drunk driver"
Paramedics, fire department, ambulance and sherriff all arrive at the scene. They act as if it's real, cutting the metal to pull the kids out, pulling the sheets over their "lifeless" heads, taking them away by ambulance and the driver is cuffed and taken to the jail where he is book and thrown in a cell.
-- all 18 kids are taken to the court house where the "drunk driver" is tried. The parents of two of the kids "killed" at the crash make woefull, tear filled speaches. One dad says, that he and "the accused" had just been at his son's basketball game together, talking about how they could better cheer the boys on during play-offs. Now he's in this courtroom because that same boy is responsible for the death of his son!! It's not right! His only son, his only child, has been ripped from him at the age of 17!! And yet he also cares about this boy, standing trial! Then the boy and his mother speak, apologize, sob; his friends are gone forever and he's responsible! It can't be undone!! He is sentenced to 45 years in prison!!
At this point, most of the kids are crying! To see what this has done to their parents! They didn't realize!
-- Next they go to the mortuary. The kids are taken through just what their parents would have to go through if they had died -- they pick out flowers, a casket and even the clothes that they will last see their precious child wear! Each one walks up to the open casket at the front of the sanctuary and looks inside. There's a mirror. They see their own face in the coffin! Quite and somber, they carry the casket out to the hearse and proceed to the gravesite.
-- Now to Central Park's Youth Grove -- this is a memorial to the youth (24 years and younger) who have been killed in traffic related incidents, some as young as 5. Here they were given headsets to quietly listen to each story and reflect on their own choices.
-- Finally they head to the hotel. Mentally and emotionally exhausted, they hope for a chance to rest. They have 1 hour to shower and relax, then back for more conversation to drive the point home! They must never forget this! Lives are at stake!
-- Multiple families have offered to share themselves and their stories with these kids. These students hear from parents who have lost their children to drunk, reckless and distracted driving. They also hear from parents who's children were the driver! And even from one driver herself!
-- The sheriff go over, with them, the difference between a car "accident" and a "collision" or "crash". They go through different scenarios and most of the "accidents" were not "accidents" at all! He/she made a choice that took some else's life! They drive yet another point home!!
-- They must now write letters to their families. Some can't. It's too unreal. They're going to speak at the assembly tomorrow, so they also prepare what they're going to say.
-- Finally to bed. No contact with the outside world! This is how it would be if they had died. Their friends and family could never contact them again.
-- School assembly in the gym. All of the juniors and seniors and the "deceased's" families are in attendance.
There is a memorial set up with the kid's pictures and their obituaries. The students haven't seen or communicated with these kids since their "deaths".
-- All of the preceding day's events have been fillmed and edited. They play the movie and when one of the mock death notifications (the sheriff come to the door to notify the parents that their child has been killed), comes on screen and the dad breaks down in sobs, there isn't a dry eye!
-- There are two speakers next. A mother and father who lost two of their sons, 18 & 15 in the same accident and a slide show of their sweet faces growing up, ending, never to seen again at their teenage years. And then their former assistant principal shares about the death of her brother 7 years earlier in an alcohol related crash.
-- Finally, the kids themselves speak. They share about their experiences the previous day and how pained they were to realize what they could be putting their parents through. My son shared that he hoped his brothers would never make him go through what he went through the day before!
-- One girl said, "we're arrogant!" We teenagers are arrogant, we think "it won't happen to me". Many expressed this thought. Another girl said, "but it did happen to us". We were the ones who died yesterday. No one is immune! It can happen to you! It happened to us!
The impact on these kids was evident! I know the emotion turmoil will wear off as the weeks go by, but I pray that these 18 kids and their friends and families will always remember!
May we pay attention when we drive, no distractions from our devices, our radio, our make-up, etc.
May we never drive under the influence.
May we never be reckless or daring on the road, risking our own lives, the lives of those around us and those that love us!