We lost one last month. I didn't know him, which is odd at our small school, but sometimes our paths don't cross even here. I do know the brothers he left behind, because I taught them both, and I know his weeping friends in my class who can't believe it could happen to one of theirs. Death seems a distant thing when you are in your teens.
When I think back on almost 19 years of teaching and count the students we've lost while they were in school here, it works out to almost one every two years. Most of these losses are attributable to teenage recklessness and automobiles. One loss in particular, about 5 years ago, is so painful that I still can't talk about it without wimping out. So I don't.
It's hard to convince teens who are sure they are invinceable that ... actually ... they are not. We put them through safe driving courses and preach the antidrug mesage. There are many teen run programs that push the idea that healthy choices like avoiding smoking, drugs, and dangerous behaviors can mean a rich, long, fun life. I think these kid delivered programs have more effect than many of the adult delivered lectures about this or that hazard.
My own kids have been involved in presenting those programs and I like to think that they and their buddies have made a difference.
In the end, it's a personal choice, a decision to engage in a dangerous or self destructive behavior. Sometimes you get a second chance. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes, something that doesn't seem so dangerous is sinisterly so.
That is what happened a month ago, a common household product, seemingly harmless when used as intended turned out to be deadly when abused.
The product is "Dust Off", those cans of compressed "air" used to clean computers and keyboards. Inhaled, it produces a sensation of dizziness. That is because it's not just air in those cans. There's a propellant inside the can that is a heavier than air gas. The dizzy feeling is produced by lungs that are filled with this gas rather than oxygen rich air. With the gas displacing the lighter air, an oxygen starved brain goes fuzzy or ... shuts down.
If you read the MSDS data on Dust Off, there is a host of bad things that can happen from inhaling it.
Kids don't read MSDS sheets. They probably don't read warning labels on cans. They are kids afterall, and they are invinceable.
I wrote that about a month ago, right after the event and sat on it ...not sure why, but I did.
This Wednesday, I rode on a school bus with a group of my kids and kids from another nearby school. It's a rural county and we all know each other so we shared a bus. We went to a fun event together and had a great day. When it was over, the bus dropped us off at our school and drove about 12 miles away to drop off the neighbor school's bunch.
Thirty minutes after getting off that bus at our neighbor school, one of those kids was dead. He was rushing to the tag office to get a tag for his new truck and lost control while passing a car... he wasn't alone. One of his passengers died and a third is in the hospital in serious condition.
The unofficial word is ... no seatbelts were used.
If you own, know, or work with teens, please take a minute to remind them they are NOT invinceable. Be that voice in their ear that makes them click the seatbelt, avoid bad situations, and generally make good choices.
At our neighbor school, there will be much pain and grieving for awhile. Eventually, time will soften the pain. Some.
Life will go on.
But sometimes, it doesn't.
Teens need to know that.