I have a voice message saved on my cell phone. I find myself listening to it at least once a week. Sometimes I listen on purpose. Other times, I'm searching for a work message and scroll through this one and it stops me in my tracks with a pause in my day. This message, left by my father two years ago, sounds like any other typical message he'd leave for me. It starts with "Hi sweetheart," and ends with "I love you." The message itself is innocuous; it is his voice that flows through me and literally gives me a physical reaction. Hearing him makes me feel calm and grounded ... like all is right in my world.
I don't get to hear my father anymore.
I don't receive the regular calls that no matter what I was doing, I would take, because it was my father. I don't benefit from his sage advice on work, life, or all matters in-between. I don't feel the soothing comfort of unconditional love from this man who knew better than anyone how to pour love into the people around him. I cannot call him when, facing a crossroad or considering an option, I know my best sounding board has always been the wisdom and moral compass from my father wanting the best for me and seeing me through the brightest-of-lenses. And I don't get to enjoy the hikes, breakfasts, conversations, hugs, trips and moments upon moments that my dad's presence filled with a magic stardust of fun, peacefulness and love.
I do not get any of this, and so much more, because he was killed by a woman who was driving while distracted. My dad was out with my mother on their regular 60-or-so mile ride with their Wednesday bike group. It was a clear day, a straight road, with no traffic or obstacles. Regardless of the safe conditions, this woman slammed into my father and killed him because she made a choice. The choice was that her text, call, email or other distraction was more important to her at that moment than pulling over or waiting to play with gadgets until she wasn't driving a 3,500 pound vehicle at 50 miles an hour and endangering other people.
I want you to understand what this woman took away from the world. Not just my world (as my dad was my hero and the kindest man I knew), but many worlds.
He was a husband who adored my mother. They met in high school and had a fairy-tale marriage filled with respect, friendship, intimacy and kindness. I can't begin to fathom the hole that my father's absence has left in my mother's life. She has forever lost her best friend, playmate, champion and partner.
My father was the grandfather of all grandfathers. He would dress up in outrageous outfits chosen by his grandkids and dance with them in the living room. He went to their soccer games, taught them to bike, showed up to every important and not-so-important event, knew their friends, and more than anything, made them feel safe and loved. After his death, one of his granddaughters who was nine at the time, would only wear clothes with pockets. She did this because she wanted to carry her papa's picture with her all the time. Another grandchild still sleeps with my father's favorite tie tucked under her pillow.
He was a friend to many -- which many of us are -- but his ability to make those he loved feel cherished, understood and valued was extraordinary.
My father was a doctor who didn't just treat his patients' illnesses; he healed them through warmth and care. Growing up, I assumed it was normal for all doctors to share their home phone numbers, make house calls on a Sunday afternoon when a patient sounded scared, and treat patients like friends -- knowing the names of their children and the successes, challenges and events of their lives. When he retired from his practice, a year before being killed, the hospital hosted his retirement party. Hundreds of patients, former patients and children of patients attended. Some paid for ambulettes to bring them from their nursing home beds. Some flew in from far away. That day, they all waited on a receiving line that was so long it took over two hours to finally stand next to their cherished doctor and say "thank you." My father replied to one and all with some version of the following: "No ... thank you. I was blessed to get to meet you." And, when they all inevitably said they could never replace my father, he said, "You have my number. Call me whenever you want to. I'm retiring, but you know I will always be there for you." And, it was true.
My dad served people. When I was in elementary school, he brought the family to live for a summer on the Blackfoot reservation in Montana where he volunteered to run the health center. When he retired from his medical practice, he spent several days a week caring for veterans at a local VA and indigent patients at a free medical clinic.
My father was taken away from me, my family, his friends, his patients and a community of many who needed and wanted him around for many more years.
The woman who killed him was charged with vehicular homicide. The trial has been postponed several times but no matter what happens, I'm sure her life has also been changed by her decision that day.
Texting, reading emails, finding a phone number, reading the paper or otherwise not paying attention fully while driving, is a choice that each driver makes each time they get in a car. To me, it is an incredibly selfish decision.
Whatever message, response, email or entertainment that may beg attention in our current instant-gratification, gadget-obsessed culture is not as important as the precious lives of people who are needed and loved.
If you are driving and compelled, as we all are, to reach for your device or knowingly distract yourself, think of loosing the person you most love. Is the message that urgent? Should you pull over to return that call? Can work wait? Do you want your children, who watch and learn from you that it's okay to drive distracted, to grow up and hurt themselves or face the consequences of killing someone else?
I understand that we are all tempted by distractions that fill our cars and it's easy to think we are the exceptions who can multi-task safely. But statistics and every study say we can't. More importantly, as we learn of the tragedies it creates, we see that choosing to distract ourselves is wrong, selfish, and hurts so many people.
Please, please, don't make that choice!
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.
And if you'd like to share your story or observation, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.
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