My brain will not let go of those terrible few moments on Thursday afternoon when our car collided with Nicholas Scroggs. I drove back over to the scene today because there were questions rattling around in there that just needed answering. Maybe it's the weirdo Ph.D. in me: What do you do with a problem? You research it. Then you write about it.
Here goes therapy.
So, I went back to do my research today. I tracked down where he would have started his journey on foot. I followed the route up to where the path to the Interstate diverged from the path to the underpass and associated sidewalk—the safe route. I located his house, which was his destination. The safe way was clearly, undeniably, unmistakably, inexplicably the shortest way home. He went out of his way to go across the Interstate, apparently for no other reason than to go across the Interstate.
So much of this I just couldn't see while sitting on the side of the highway. But I went back to that vantage point as well. I picked out the spot where I'm pretty sure he started his run. I noted where I believe that the impact took place. Then that horrible spot where I sat and held his hand.
It's a morality play—that's what it is. And the gospel is right there underneath it. There's the beauty of man, created in the image of God. The last moments of Nicholas Scroggs were beautiful. Even juxtaposed against all of my terror and all of my frantic action, he could have been running for Olympic gold. His stride was perfect. That backpack trailing in the wind. In any other place, at any other time, under any other circumstances, we all would have stood to applaud the sheer athletic grace and beauty and youth and vigor that he displayed. How magnificent! For a moment, it almost felt like he belonged there and the cars were intruding.
That's part of what haunts me so much. The pure vitality of the life that ended with my involvement was on such glorious display right before me in those final moments. Juxtaposed against the horrible images that I see when I lie down at night, I also see his final vigorous moments when he was so alive.
He never saw me. He never looked my direction. There was no expression of fear or hesitation. I really don't think he ever knew.
Alongside the beauty of man, there's our temptation, our spirit of thrill-seeking rebellion, and our fatal flaw. I've tried to chalk this up to his being fourteen. But four, fourteen, or one-hundred-forty, we're all infected with the same virus. Temptation blinds us to consequences. A forty-year-old man has an affair and fails to think, "I could lose my marriage, my good relationship with my children, a lot of money" All he sees is the temptation. A fourteen-year-old boy wants the thrill of running across eight lanes of freeway and doesn't even see the grave risk that he will never again reach home. Grown people tank up on booze and get behind the wheel and it somehow never occurs to them that they just might kill somebody tonight. It's the same disease; the forty-year-old just doesn't have the energy to run across concrete for no reason at all. We struggle to understand, especially because he was a good boy and a smart boy. We're so puzzled to sort it all out because we're looking for some error that he made in his thinking. It wasn't his brain; it was his will.
As they call us in C. S. Lewis's fictional land of Narnia, we are truly sons of Adam. So, why did Nick Scroggs do what he did? Well, why do you do what you do? Why do I do what I do? Because we're broken. We will to do what even we know to be unwise, to be hurtful, to be wrong. We do it because we wanted to do it, and that's all the reason that we need.
And then the terrible consequences. They sneak up on you. You may not ever see them coming. And they don't just affect you. They put in danger the people you love, the folks traveling around you. Folks you don't even know, they hurt because of what you do. The victimless crime: I think it belongs with Sasquatch and the Abominable Snowman.
Finally, there's the loving person trying to encourage a friend to choose life. Nick had a good friend (I think he's remained unnamed in the media, and I'm not going to out him) who was walking with him that day. He refused to cross the Interstate with Nick. He tried to convince Nick to go down to the underpass with him and to join him in the journey safely home. He tried. But Nick's friend couldn't choose for Nick; Nick made his own decision.
Nick's friend and I, we've got to be feeling a lot of the same things right now. Nick's friend tried to persuade him to go another way. I tried to miss Nick, and almost succeeded. If that concrete barrier had been just two feet further to the left, I think that I could have gotten past him safely.
So often I'm on a cell phone or placating an unhappy child while driving. But I was 100% and entirely undistracted at that moment. What are the odds? If I'd been chatting away on a call or turned to pick up a thrown sippy-cup or driving along at some frantic and excessive speed, then I'd be second-guessing and feeling a lot of guilt right now. And thank God that I'm a teetotaling abstentionist—if I had had "just one beer" or "just one glass of wine" over lunch, I would carry with me to the grave the question of whether my so very slight impairment might have made the difference between life and death. As it was, by the grace of God, it was a moment when I was doing everything right.
If Nick's friend hadn't tried to talk him out of it—God forbid, if he'd been egging Nick on and daring him—then he would carry that burden all of his life. But he did try to talk him out of it and refused to go with him. And so, by the grace of God, we're surrounded by people saying over and over again, "You know that this wasn't your fault. There wasn't anything you could do about it." And we know that they're right.
But somehow, as I sat on the concrete of Interstate 30 and held Nick's lifeless hand, and as Nick's friend fell on the concrete and begged Nick to wake up, it not being our fault wasn't worth a bucket of spit. It wasn't about assigning blame; it was about tragedy and loss. Thank God, I know for certain from having witnessed it all that Nick never suffered. He was running, and then he was gone. I saw both. And all that was left was other people sitting around bewildered, trying to figure out why.
There you go. That's the way I see it. God's masterpieces tempted to do very dangerous and foolhardy things and meeting up with terrible consequences that too often destroy them and hurt everyone at ground zero. This is the story even of good people.
Are we doomed just to suffer with this condition? Knowing the Lord, I recognize the gospel in there. This story is exactly what the Bible says about us. It further says that God did an intervention. Jesus took the worst of our consequences upon Himself. He saves us and then sends us out to warn people away from the danger while we're walking with them. When they don't listen, even when we've done everything that we can, it hurts something awful. I don't even want to imagine what it feels like when we didn't do anything to stop it.
Not everyone involved in this story will be a Christian. Mine is just a little personal blog, but there might even be someone reading this who is not a Christian. Perhaps you see it differently. Please understand, I'm not trying to manipulate Nick's story and use him for anything at all. Far from it. But I just can't put it out of my mind. Sleep eludes me and solace cannot be found. Tracy has to grab me and snap me back into this reality pretty often, because I'm just insentient and lost back in the reliving of those terrible seconds, oblivious to whatever is going on around me right now. I'm thinking it through and writing about it because something's got to help, and maybe this is it.
And when I try to make sense of it all, I see the gospel there. Because I think that the Bible describes us pretty doggone well. God's got our number. And maybe, if we can all come to grips with that, we'll let Him help us.
I'm not feeling very eloquent tonight, and I need to try to sleep. And I'm scared to death to write about this because it would be so easy to hurt people when probing around in a wound looking for something. Please forgive me.