Death affects us all in different ways, doesn’t it? Shock, anger, and sadness are what come to mind today. Yesterday when I learned of the horrific murder of the two journalists on live TV, I was shocked. WDBJ7 was the station where I got all my news, from childhood through college, until my early twenties when I moved out of state. I could well have been watching when the shooting took place. My heart breaks for their families. Why do people kill other people? I just don’t understand it.
We were watching when Dan Wheldon was killed in Las Vegas. Granted, we had recorded the last race of the season, in October 2011, and had stayed off social media all afternoon to avoid spoilers. We stayed up late that night watching what was supposed to be an exciting race but turned out to be a solemn vigil, waiting to learn the fate of one of the most popular drivers in the series. Part of me wanted to run and check Twitter for a live update, but I wanted to hang on to the hope that Dan would be OK, and to pray.
(Dan in Richmond, June 2005. He had won the Indy 500 a month earlier. Everyone wanted to talk to him.)
There was plenty of blame to go around: There were too many cars in the field, the track was too fast for those cars, the cars weren’t safe enough, etc. etc. etc. Some positive changes were made, and the next season found us watching the races as usual, and keeping our tradition of attending at least one race every year. This year was no different.
We almost didn’t go to Pocono last weekend. Chris was scheduled to work on Saturday evening, and had been calling and texting coworkers to try and find someone to take his shift. We had a Plan B, which was to go to Mass on Saturday night after Chris got off work and drive to Virginia International Raceway on Sunday for a sports car race there. Chris found someone to work for him, though, and off we went. (I would have gone to the Planned Parenthood rally in Richmond on Saturday. Instead I was driving north toward Pennsylvania, looking forward to gawking at race car drivers later that day.)
(Scott Dixon. I wonder if he was looking at me?!?)
Why do we go to races? They’re fun, that’s why. They’re exhilarating. (After Dan Wheldon died I wrote about how I became a racing fan in a blog post, which you can find here). We’ve made some great memories over the past ten years: Chris having his picture taken with Tony Kanaan; spending a weekend with good friends in the Finger Lakes in 2009 and going to the race at Watkins Glen (Justin Wilson won that race); staying with my dear friend from high school in 2010 for the weekend when we attended the race at Mid-Ohio; going to the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and getting to see Tony Kanaan take the checkered flag and drink the milk. We were making good memories at this race, too, even though it’s the first time we’ve been to a race without Matt, who is off to college.
(Biggest grin I’ve ever seen on that kid.)
(Justin Wilson wins at Watkins Glen)
(The Mother of all races, 2013)
After the crash near the end of Sunday’s race, the one that would take Justin Wilson’s life, it wasn’t fun anymore. We weren’t particularly interested in who would win, or who was going to win the championship. Thankfully we couldn’t see the crash scene very well from where we were sitting, but the mood of the crowd turned somber very quickly. All I could pray in that moment was, “Please, Lord, no more deaths.” We watched as the helicopter took off toward the hospital with Justin inside, hoping and praying that he would be all right. Ray speculated that maybe he just had a concussion and they wanted to take him to the hospital for closer observation. I hoped that was the case as well, but of course it wasn’t. On the ride home, all I could think about was Justin and his wife and kids and his mom and dad and brother. As Ray drove, I obsessively checked Twitter for updates. And prayed. On Monday when we learned that Justin had passed, we asked each other why we go to races. We said maybe we should start going to smaller, less popular race events instead, like sports car races or American Le Mans. I learned to love Indy Car racing, and could learn to love those as well. We’ll see. It’s too soon.
Sometimes death comes before our time, and rarely does it happen on live TV. We’ve seen too much of that this week. Please, no more deaths.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.