Columns 2016

So many lives lost

Alaska has lost a whole lot in the past couple of weeks. We lost four lives in a plane crash. We lost one life to unspeakable cruelty. And we will probably lose four more lives to prison. Not exactly the run up to Christmas that we were all hoping for

Those who died in the plane crash are mourned for all the potential that has been lost through something that Alaskans do everyday – getting on a small plane to get from here to there. In the back of our heads, we know that these accidents happen. Every time we get on a plane, we take a risk. That’s the Alaska way of life. So we mourn for four good people taken from us way too soon.

We also mourn for a young man who was, by all accounts, a pretty straight-laced kid who apparently gave in to the temptation to do a little drinking and smoking with some “friends”. Accounts of that tragic evening leave us with more questions than answers. How did a night of pot smoking and alcohol end up in a murder? What happened in that trailer that caused someone to go get a gun?

It is every parent’s nightmare. You warn your child about the dangers of life outside your home but ultimately you have to depend on their common sense and good judgment once they’ve left your sight. Probably ninety-nine out of a hundred times they will stray slightly off the path with no untoward results. It’s that hundredth time that destroys you.

Which leads us to the last four lives lost, those of the young men accused of the heinous crime of murder for no reason yet really discernible through legal filings or newspaper reports. What happened to them in their lives that led them to that dark night?

There is a small movement afoot in the wake of this tragedy to once again try to make parents responsible for their children’s actions. This sounds good as a broad statement. All parents hold some responsibility for how their progeny emerge from childhood and enter the world as adults. But as anyone knows who has ever encountered a teenager whose total daily conversation with the parental units is a grunt, this is easier said than done.

The teen years are years when young people start to separate from their parents to create their own identity. It’s a tough time. Knowing who you are and what your purpose in life might be takes a whole lot of energy. Sometimes when that search gets too stressful, teens will do unsafe things to ease the tension. That unsafe activity may be anything from unprotected sex to drugs and alcohol. If it makes their world a little easier to handle in the short run, then many seem willing to take the risks associated with these behaviors in the long run.

Since parents cannot be with their teen twenty-four hours a day, there comes a point in the process where all they can do is hope that the lessons they’ve taught will hold up against what the outside world is telling their kid. Sometimes that works. Sadly, as was evidenced so recently here, sometimes it doesn’t.

Which leads us back to the four young men whose lives are, to all extents and purposes, over. Assuming the evidence against them holds up in court, they are all about to go away for a very long time. They won’t go to college or dance at their prom. They won’t have a wife or a child or a home. They won’t make their way in the world as independent adults. They will, instead, become a part of an institution that doesn’t exactly prize individuality. Simply put, they have effectively ended their lives as much as they ended their victim’s life.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about how one young man was able to go into his home and get a gun without anyone questioning him. There are legitimate questions about what kind of childhood leads to this level of wanton disrespect for life. And maybe, just maybe, when the dust settles, we will find out that some of these young men had less than ideal upbringings; that they didn’t grow up in a nurturing, caring environment.

But if that’s so, maybe the time to have held the parents responsible was many, many years ago. Now, we’d just be trying to shut the barn door after the horses escaped.