How many times did I wave good-bye to her as the bus drove away?
I sit in my office and ponder the answer; over the 18 years of her life I have lost track of the school trips, ski trips, sport trips…all the times I watched as the bus rolled away.
And that’s when the tears that had been hovering in my eyes since first hearing the news finally began to fall.
15 lives lost, several of them young men not much older than my own child. A strip of road in a province I know well, the province of my birth and still in possession of a large piece of my heart. A tragic accident that every parent fears and which we all know could have happened to us, as in this vast country travelling by bus for school or work or play is a simple factor of life.
I spent a good part of the weekend wondering if I would learn that one of those lost was somehow related; that’s how Saskatchewan is, you know, deeply interwoven and the smallest big province you’ve ever seen.
But in the end them being related by blood didn’t matter, as when I heard the news of the misidentification of one of the victims, that cruel final twist of the knife, all I could think was how it must feel to be the parents of hope found; and the parents of all hope lost.
I kept thinking back to an accident that occurred over thirty years ago, in another small Saskatchewan town where I was friends with many of the students in the Grade 12 class. A late Saturday night, some alcohol, no helmets, two dirt bikes; two dead on impact when the bikes collided, one lingering in a coma for months before life support was removed, one with devastating injuries.
That town was never the same, and the impact of that crash rippled far beyond town limits, changing the lives of every person it touched.
It changed me, as death entered my life when I was seventeen, and it altered the way I saw the world forever.
I think about the survivors from the accident this weekend, and how they too will be forever changed. I think of all that lies ahead for them, and how what lies behind them will never seem the same, either.
Because one single moment in time can change absolutely everything.
All those times I put her on a bus.
It could have been her.
All the times I was that kid on the bus.
It could have been me.
Perhaps that is why this touches us so deeply; we know it could be any of us, at any time, and the tragic reality that it was fifteen of them at one single time is almost unfathomable.
As I sit in my office and allow the tears to fall, I reflect on the fragile and fleeting nature of life. I think about how someone close to me once said I was far too sensitive to these things, how they didn’t understand how I could feel so deeply about tragedies that aren’t my own. And I remember questioning what the point of life was if you couldn’t feel these things; and knowing that for me being able to feel these things is the very point.
I have experienced personal sorrow and sadness; and I have experienced the kind of sorrow and sadness you feel deep in your heart and head when it has moved into the realm of almost unbelievable.
On Friday, twenty nine people boarded a bus. For fifteen of them, it would be their final act.
How many times did I put her on a bus? I try to remember, but it is all too far away in memory and to be frank it is too hard to think about just now.
I put on my coat and head out the door. I will call her, I think, and tell her that I love her.
Live life, I will tell her. Laugh more than you cry, praise more than you criticize, celebrate more than you despair and live every single fucking day like it could be your – or their – last. Never take it for granted.
And I will remind her of all the times I watched the bus roll away.
My heart is with a hockey team,
a small prairie town,
the families and friends of those who have been lost,
the survivors who continue to fight for recovery,
and an entire country in mourning.