Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Not a Word from Your Sponsors

Saturday night, you could see the following type of exchanges happening on facebook for those of us in Santa Rosa:
Does anyone know why [highway] 12 is closed?
I heard there was a big accident.
Yeah, a bad crash with 2 fatalities. (links to local paper's website)
Oh, man. That sucks.  end scene, go on with your night
Sunday morning, those of us at church arrived to find out that those "fatalities" were our friend, Sue Hufford, and her mother-in-law, Sharon. I'm not going to recap the whole thing here, but they were killed (hopefully) instantly when their stopped car was crushed by a truck going 60mph driven by a young man who was high and looking at his phone at the time. Her husband and father-in-law were taken to the hospital with injuries, but they lived.

I cannot claim to have been close to Sue, so my pain is only a fraction of the pain of her many students, mentees, closest friends, and family. But we liked each other a lot. We were co-leaders (called "sherpas" in our church youth group) of a group of 12-21 (depending on the week) high school girls about 4 years ago.
Our silly group, with Sue being the non-redheaded adult there on the left. We made our shirts, which say "HOLLA" big with (lujah) underneath. We thought they were REAL funny. Some of the girls are also making the Michael Nunan stinkface. 
Sue was quiet, especially when you first met her. Her closest friends may have seen her differently, but I always thought she was quiet. It surprised me that she wanted to work with high school girls, and also that she was an elementary school teacher. I felt like she was such a real adult compared to me. She wasn't very silly that year, and I often thought she didn't like me. (We won't discuss the game involving plastic wrap and a furniture dolly which sent her to the hospital that first night of youth group.)

Over the years, Sue and I chatted from time to time about how she and her kids were doing, but it was really after I became a foster parent that I think we connected more. She was always happy to hear about what was going on in our new lives as parents. In this past year, I had a number of really nice but short times with her. I saw her smile more than I'd had call to in the past. At our women's Open Mic night last year, I would have been thrilled if she really had been the one who could cackle like the Wicked Witch of the West in the game of To Tell the Truth that she participated in, and she awed us all with her talent when she played a few songs on the violin. Why were we surprised that a music teacher was so talented?

We sat and talked at her youngest's graduation party, and ran into each other at The Human Race, where she was raising funds for her salary like a sort of missionary of elementary music. Just the week before she was killed, I got to sit with her twice at different events. I sat with her and Jay at the Eagle ceremony for a young man from church. Even though she was wearing an Eagle Scout shirt from when one of her sons had achieved it, we knew each other well enough that I could lean over and mutter, "This is SO not my thing!" and she just laughed and said, "Yeah, it's a bit over the top." When I showed up for the first practice for Easter choir, I was so happy to see that she was there. She sat by me and, again, I was impressed by her talent and was glad to know that I could sit by her each week and be sure I had the right notes since I'm not a good music reader. We weren't close, but she was my friend and I'm just so sad.

There has been a tremendous outpouring of support and love and even outrage expressed over how they were killed. So many people have shared the news stories, even people who never met her, because it was a tragedy that didn't need to happen. This is good. I suppose that's a way that her death won't have been completely pointless: if people will stop texting and driving and be more aware; if other lives can be saved. A lesson can be learned. I know. I know this is important, but it also hurts a little bit. Amid all the "sorry for your loss"es and "can't we put away our phones?" I just want to yell "DON'T YOU GET IT! THIS IS HORRIBLE. MORE HORRIBLE THAN THAT! SHE WAS OUR FRIEND AND NOW SHE'S DEAD! SHE'S MORE THAN YOUR PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT!" I'm afraid that her kids will heal hardened instead of tender. I'm afraid that I'll never see Jay smile and cracking a joke like he was every single time I ever saw him before this.

I know. I know. I'm being unreasonable. Maybe all humans are kinesthetic learners: we have to touch something and feel it before we can learn it. Our behavior isn't going to change until something is personal, and I hope that the degrees of separation between these deaths and you are few enough to do that for you. Personally, I have changed my phone behavior in the car, so I'm receiving the message, too. I can't make you cry for my friend, but I will accept that you have been affected by her story and will honor these deaths by changing your behavior and encouraging those around you to do the same. Let's do a better job of taking care of each other, okay?