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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Life Could be 99.9% Over and We Don't Even Know It.

A passenger of a commuter train in Chicago was robbed of her iPhone last month at the Fullerton “L” stop. The offender struggled with her, eventually snatched her phone, and then fled as the train doors opened to the next stop. That is an unfortunate incident in itself but it doesn’t end there. When making his get-away, the robber ran towards an exit and pushed 68 year old Sally Katona-King as she was walking towards the train platform, knocking down the metal and concrete steps. Katona-King died as a result of her injuries.

Katona-King, a church Deacon ironically, was a victim of circumstance and proximity. Some may find peace in believing that “it was her time”; that her life’s end had been etched in stone with no alteration - that this was her fate. Others believe that life brings forth a sequence of events that unfold by chance and circumstance. They believe that every choice we make as we move throughout our day has an impact on the way things manifest.

Think of the precise moment a fatal car crash occurs. There is one millisecond in time that brings the crashing of two objects together and subsequently alters lives and history. Some people play events backwards after a tragedy and secretly wonder what would have happened if they had turned left instead of right or didn’t stop to get gas. Others avert tragedy and declare that they were supposed to have been in that building that caught fire or on that plane that crashed but something in their plan was altered thereby sparing their existence.

I don’t know where Ms. Katona-King was headed as she moved towards the platform on that fateful day, but what if she had paused to listen to the jazz musicians play on the platform or stopped to buy a newspaper, thereby altering the precise moment that the armed robber crossed her path?

My colleague and friend worked as a fatal traffic investigator for many years and his computer screen-saver had these words: “Your life could be 99.9% over and you don’t even know it.” I thought that was both morbid and disturbing until I reflected upon the powerful reality of that statement. Police officers come to understand this notion very well because we are front line to the gunshot or the crash that abruptly closes the chapter on a life.

Katona-King ultimately died because a thug stole a cell phone. I wonder what would happen if we turned back the clock and the owner of the cell phone altered her actions slightly. This cell phone robbery only made headlines because of the death that resulted but I can assure you that there are hundreds more incidents you don’t hear about because stealing a cell phone isn’t really newsworthy.

I frequently ride the train to Chicago with my family and I am very conscious of the unconsciousness of most of the commuters. Smart phones have become an appendage to the human body and most people walk with their head down, oblivious to their surroundings because they are engaged in a text conversation or they are scrolling through their news feed on Facebook. What if we could prevent these robberies by being aware of our surroundings? What if we made it difficult for those who prey upon others by being astutely conscious of the risks and threats around us?

I cannot say for sure if we have the ability to alter events. It might be a long shot to suggest that simple changes in our routines and habits might change the course of history. But I do believe that we can prevent being a victim by being conscious and smarter in the way we move through the world. Maybe we cannot alter fate, but I think there are some things we can do so we aren’t leaving everything to chance.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Mom and Some Eggs

My car got egged on April Fool’s Day. I'm not sure if the date had any significance or if it was just an act of delinquency on a typical Friday night. I surveyed my neighbors and learned that a few of them spent their Saturday morning at the car wash as well. Because there was no permanent damage, neither my neighbors nor I filed a police report.

Upon returning to work on Monday I received a letter of appreciation for two of our officers from a citizen that had been forwarded to me from the Chief. I settled in with my cup of java in eager anticipation to read the compliments bestowed on Aurora's Finest. The letter was from a mother who praised the way our officers handled her teen aged son who had been caught "egging" cars with his friends the previous Friday night.

GASP! Were these the same culprits who chucked perfectly good eggs at my perfectly clean car? I started to relive my emotions when I walked outside and discovered the gooey mess and secretly scolded myself for not filing the police report on Saturday morning. The boys were caught in the adjacent subdivision so there was little disputing these were the same offenders.

After my blood pressure dropped a bit, I continued reading the letter. My mood shifted as I read the emotional words of a mother who was mortified by the actions of her child and very eloquently described the scenario for which the police officers caught her son and his friends. The boys were handcuffed and detained while the officers collected statements from witnesses and victims which is a standard procedure.

The victims of the damage opted not to press charges because the boys had never been in trouble. In a refreshing shift from the norm, the offending teens apologized to each person with humility and sincerity. The police officers (according to mom) used the incident as an opportunity to mentor the kids about the consequences of their actions and what a felony criminal damage conviction would do to their future when it came to applying for colleges and jobs. They reiterated that one bad choice can alter a future in a moment’s time.

My anger dissipated as I read the "sentence" imparted by the boy’s mother. He was required to pay for each of the cars to get washed and his ultimate consequence was that his car (used in the commission of the crime) was to be taken away and subsequently sold.

Because I have children who will be of driving age in less than three years, I empathized with the plight of this mother and the feeling that her child should be punished but relieved that it was going to be by her and not a judge or jury. I often tell my children that my wrath will be far worse than what they will incur from a school official or the law and I detected that the mother who wrote shared the same philosophy.

I'm grateful to the mother for writing to the Chief to describe the excellent job done by our officers. Society tends to focus on what is wrong rather than what is right and it's refreshing to see that someone is paying attention. But I'm even more grateful to this mother for having the courage to shine a spotlight on her son’s actions rather than trying to defend him or displace her anger and ridicule the police for doing their jobs. It is our natural instinct to protect our children when they do something wrong but we must acknowledge objectively when they do and apply consequences. That is good parenting.

Judging from the officers’ described remorse of the boy; I surmise that the harshest punishment of all was knowing that he disappointed his mom.