I once saw a traffic control video of a guy running across a busy street. Somehow this guy, despite—or maybe because of—never once looking back to see the chaos behind him, managed to avoid being run over like six times. And not because of his mad parkour skills or anything like that, but rather because of some perfect combination of dumb luck and the driving skills/mercy of the people around him.
I was thinking about this guy the other day when I heard about the sentence that was passed down on the Virginia college student in North Korea—the kid who was caught trying to steal a propaganda poster off of the wall of his hotel. This kid (and yeah, as a mom I feel pretty secure in calling a 21 year-old man a “kid”) was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor. Let me repeat that. Fifteen years hard labor in North Korea. This is, for all intents and purposes, (and for people other than a Tom Hardy character), essentially a death sentence.
Death. For tearing down a poster. True, it was a poster that belonged to North Korea, and also true, in any country it would have been considered an incredibly stupid and disrespectful action, but I think that most everyone can agree that in this case the punishment in no way fit the crime. But then again, the punishment for being young and stupid very rarely ever does.
Some kids—most kids, really—are like the guy who ran across six lanes of traffic. They do amazingly stupid things and yet, somehow, they survive. Others find that their “youthful indiscretions” merit a death sentence. Why? It’s a question that torments every single parent.
If you have children, they will do something stupid. No, scratch that: they will do a lot of somethings stupid. That’s a given, and giving them the freedom to make those choices is one of the hardest things about parenting. Because there is absolutely no way to know what the results will be. Will your kid be the one who makes it across the street? Or the one who ends up sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in North Korea?
It doesn’t help at all that some kids seem like they are blessed to be able to run across that busy street again and again without consequence, and others are struck down on their very first time. That’s because, in the end it hardly matters whether it happens the first time or the fiftieth—the aftermath will still leave you reeling.
I don’t know anything at all about the Virginia college student. I don’t know if he was raised to be thoughtful, careful and respectful and just had a momentary lapse of judgement, or if this was the latest in a long string of destructive “pranks” he has pulled in his short lifetime. I do know that his fate sent a chill down the spine of every parent who has raised a child who is now old enough to make their own decisions, and therefore old enough to fully pay the price for making their own mistakes.
The legal term for dying while doing something stupid is “death by misadventure.” This, I think, is one of those rare examples of the English language being truly evocative. Because “misadventure” implies nothing so much as an adventure gone wrong. In other words, “we were having the best time ever, right up until we weren’t.”
Right up until we got to that last lane of traffic.