I’m packing my bag, getting ready to go to Washington DC for the Sorrow to Strength conference. I’ll be with other families who have lost loved ones to preventable truck crashes and some people who have survived such crashes themselves. It’s five days that we look forward to and dread all at the same time.
Still, if you ask any individual attending, they will tell you straight away that the reason they work to make our roads safer is because they don’t want another family going through the pain and grief they’ve been through. They don’t want another family suffering because of something that is so preventable.
Tonight I’m listening to the 10:00 p.m. news as I zip the suitcase shut. The television is on just for background noise, I’m not paying much attention, more interested in making sure I don’t forget to take something important.
And then I hear the words ‘semi’ and ‘fatal’ and ‘construction zone.’
And I reel around and stand still as the story unfolds. You can read about it here.
There is construction on a stretch of freeway that I travel regularly. Today cars were slowed to merge into the construction zone. A semi lost control and rear ended the cars ahead. Two men are dead. A woman was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital. Doubtless there are other injuries, certainly other people who were terrified.
It’s early yet, and we don’t know the entire story. But regardless of the details the truth is that tonight there are new families facing a long journey through loss and injury. Their worlds have just imploded. A semi running into the back of cars slowing for construction is the definition of a preventable crash. I hope that we can connect with these families when they are ready. Meanwhile, I’ll travel to DC and try to be heard.
Because this is why I go to Washington.
And then I remembered.
The time is coming for me to attend another Sorrow to Strength Conference in Washington DC. The Truck Safety Coalition hosts the conference every two years; I’ve been to six of them since dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver in 2004.
The conference is a time for families to join others, all of whom have been damaged by preventable truck crashes, to share their stories, gain support, and learn about truck safety issues. Some families are struggling with permanent injuries, others are grieving the loss of loved ones. And some are trying to deal with both injury and loss.
It’s almost too much to fathom, all those people in one room.
But it’s a good thing too, because you won’t meet a better group of people to support a family in the throes of grief. These are people that know how it feels to get that call or to sit next to a hospital bed knowing that life will never be the same, but hoping for at least a semblance of normalcy sometime in the future.
It’s a difficult conference to attend, but it’s called Sorrow to Strength for a reason. We begin filled with sorrow, and leave, after several days, stronger for having been together. We’ll be talking to Congressional members, agency employees, and the media about truck safety issues. The current political environment in DC is not particularly conducive to regulation these days. But we aren’t giving up finding compromises that make our roads safer for everyone.
Everyone has trepidation as they head to DC for this conference. Attending dredges up all the old memories and emotions. Even after almost thirteen years I still get anxious thinking about the crash, anticipating the questions, planning for the meetings.
But then I think about dad. And so many others that I’ve come to know over the years. There will be new families attending this year, there always are. They are stark reminders that every year, every month, every day that goes by without solutions more people are being injured and killed. This is no time to let politics get in our way.
Wish us luck.
I’ve had a good winter off, playing on the beach, watching light move across water, sleeping in, napping mid-afternoon. But it’s time to get back to work.
Work!??? You’re right; I’m retired. So what work am I talking about?
There are many of you new here at Change is Hard. You probably haven’t heard me talk about trucks and safety and my family’s story. You probably think my life is all about photography and travel and a special little dog. And sometimes it is.
“You can turn grief into action.”
But sometimes it’s about grief and loss and preventable crashes. And honoring the memory of my dad who was killed in December of 2004 by a tired semi driver who fell asleep at the wheel while going 65 miles per hour on a freeway in the early morning hours. A driver who failed to see the lights of emergency vehicles up ahead, the people working to clear a minor crash that had occurred earlier. A driver that didn’t notice the traffic stopped in front of him. Didn’t see my dad in his little red car until it was too late.
My dad was a guy who lived by safe rules. He had retired ten years earlier from a career managing chemical plants, inherently dangerous places. He made us all wear our life jackets in the boat when we were kids. He drove with us around and around the neighborhood when he taught us how to drive a stick shift car, until he was satisfied we could operate it safely. He helped my sister build her house in Tennessee, complete with extra roof brackets to hold the roof down in a tornado. Just in case. He carried an emergency contact list in his wallet, listing the four kids and spouses with work and home phone numbers. That’s how they knew where to find us after the crash.
“Hope in the face of difficulty.”
So after we got through the initial days filled with disbelief and unbearable grief, when we were moving into sad confusion buffeted by unrelenting grief, we began to ask questions. How did the driver not see all that traffic ahead? Not see all the emergency lights? The road was straight. The sight lines clear. We searched the internet looking for anything about truck crashes.
And we found the Truck Safety Coalition.
It’s an organization made up of the families of people who have been killed or injured in preventable truck crashes. It provides support to families and it works to change the way things are done in the trucking industry. Sometimes that means working to change regulations and laws. Sometimes that means working to change perceptions among people that drive trucks. Sometimes it’s about educating people that drive cars. Sometimes it means meeting with legislators and staff, or truck company executives, or members of other safety groups. Always it means honoring the memories of those we’ve lost, honoring the lives that have been changed forever of those who were injured.
It means trying to save lives
Every other year the families meet in Washington DC for a few days. We tell our stories, we sadly welcome the new families — those whose losses are recent, we talk about issues, resolutions, how to make a difference. And we go to the Hill and talk to everyone we can. Legislators, Regulators, the Press. Everyone. Sometimes they call us the ‘crazy truck people.’ That’s OK with us. Whatever gives attention to our issues.
“Even when you’re 100% right getting things done requires compromise.”
The conference is coming up next month. I can feel the tension escalating among my Truck Safety “family” already. Facebook is abuzz with truck issues. People are becoming stressed. Or depressed. Or hopeful. Or everything all rolled into one. Attending the conference brings it all back again for us. Yet it’s hard to stay away. “It’s like attending the funeral all over again.” says one mother who has been fighting for truck safety for more than twenty-five years.
The title of this post, and the quotes interspersed throughout, are from former President Obama’s July 2016 speech. I wrote a few things he said down on a random piece of paper way back then and that paper has found it’s way back to me this week. As I gear up for a difficult few days in Washington I thought they were appropriate. Hopeful. Democrat, Republican or Independent, the world would be a better place if we could learn to compromise. I’m hoping we find a bit of that during our conference this year.
It’s probably the most I can expect.
Four years ago, or was it eight, I had lunch with a good friend. We’ve known each other for more than 40 years, adventured together decades ago, worked together, grieved together, laughed a lot. That kind of friend. But at that lunch we learned our politics were light years apart. I was surprised. So was she. By the end of lunch we had silently agreed to leave the politics out of our friendship, and it’s never come up again.
My philosophy, which I voiced then, was that you didn’t have to like the person, but you had to respect the office.
Yesterday the United States peacefully transferred power and, though I still believe in respecting the office, I’m having a hard time this time. I needed to settle, so instead of watching the inauguration I left home for the day and went to a place where I’ve always found peace.
Kensington Metro Park.
It was a dreary, soggy, grey day and few people were braving the raindrops and cold. I should have worn warmer and dryer shoes. And a hat. Still, the birds, always eager to great me, made me smile.
And there was color to be found if you looked for it.
Even when the fog began to drift in and the cold made it’s way into my bones I didn’t leave. So much on my mind, I debated both sides of the argument I’ve watched unfold in the news and in my friends.
Can a man who has spoken such vile things, a man who apologizes for none of it, a man who essentially uses his wealth and celebrity to bully, can such a man lead the free world? Can he be my president?
You don’t have to like the person, but you have to respect the office. Somehow that’s harder to do when your candidate didn’t win. I’m reminded by my more conservative friends that they quietly accepted a candidate they didn’t support for the past eight years.
Still…this president scares me.
On the other hand….respect the office.
I am more liberal than many of my friends and family, more conservative than others. Yet we all care about each other and I hope that will continue far into the future, beyond the term(s) of this president, beyond the terms of presidents to come.
Today I will respect the office, but am mindful that there must be accountability. It’s early yet, but I reserve my right to respectfully, peacefully but loudly protest any actions that take away benefits and rights from members of my family, my friends, and even strangers that deserve the same respect I give the office.
I’ll respect the office Mr. President. But I think we all expect some respect in return.
Change is hard.
Many of you already know this organization because of all my posts about Dad who was killed by a tired trucker December 23, 2004. We’re coming up on the anniversary again, and though it’s twelve years now, it seems like yesterday that my family’s world was turned upside down.
Back then we weren’t sure what had happened to us, or why, but we knew it wasn’t right. And the more we learned, about the long hours truck drivers work, the conditions they work under, the more we realized it was something we wanted to help fix.
Just like Dad always fixed stuff for us.
TSC is the only organization singularly devoted to supporting victims of truck crashes as well as the families and friends who have lost a loved one in a truck crash. I encourage you to go to their website to learn more about all the supportive programs and advocacy in which the Truck Safety Coalition is involved.
Please donate to TSC this Giving Tuesday by clicking here (http://trucksafety.org/get-involved/donate/) to help make a difference in the lives of people dealing with tragic crashes and to help save lives by improving highway safety for everyone, including those driving commercial trucks.
If you were to talk to any of the families volunteering for TSC they’d tell you that they work for safety to honor their loved ones and to keep other families from suffering the same tragedy they cope with every day.
Please join us as we stand for safety.
And thank you very much for all the emotional support you’ve provided my own family over the years. We couldn’t have made it through without all of you.
Years ago I lived a few miles north of where I live now, in the city of Flint Michigan. You’ve probably heard of it. Last year it came to light that the pipes connecting many of the homes to their water supply were corroded and the water was contaminated with lead. Many children in the city tested positive for lead poisoning.
The water crisis garnered national attention. Presidential candidates visited promising to help. CNN arrived and interviewed residents. Congressional hearings were held. Celebrities donated thousands of bottles of clean water.
We were all outraged.
The tainted water had already been running into households for more than a year back then. And now it’s been more than a year since. This is what being local to Flint means today:
I heard this week that a grant has been won by the city of Flint to help resolve the problem. Some pipes have been replaced, others have been coated with something to stop the corrosion. A few families now have clean water.
Many still do not.
And most people there don’t trust that their water will ever be safe to drink. After all, they’d been told it was safe before and now their children are poisoned. Their future is uncertain.
There are no easy solutions, but I can not imagine using bottled water for everything. For washing dishes, for bathing children, for cooking.
I’m not proud of the fact that these images define local in a city just up the road. That we seem to have forgotten, moved on with our lives, assumed someone was doing something to fix the problem. Someone else.
But this is still the reality of ‘local’ in Flint Michigan.
Part two of the cherry blossom saga. Easter weekend was my first visit to DC during cherry blossom time. Sunday I explored, along with thousands of others, the beautiful tidal basin ringed with cherry trees showing off their blossoms. Monday was spent at meetings, but Tuesday morning I had a couple of hours before my flight. So I got up before dawn and rode the metro back to the Hill.
It was an entirely different experience.
For one, the sun came up and lit the western edge of the basin with a rosy glow that complimented the pink and white cherry blossoms. And for another, there were far fewer people out there. Most of them were joggers like me, or photographers also like me, though many of them had fancy equipment. I was carrying my trusty point and shoot, the better to get runs in between stops for photos.
The first bit of sun tinged the top of the Jefferson Monument pink, and though it was beautiful I was still two very busy streets away. Still, I got a bit of it as I zoomed in as far as my little camera would go.
As I got closer to the tidal basin the sun was beginning to focus on the cherry trees themselves. Pretty breathtaking.
I could have spent hours just meandering beneath the beautiful trees…
…but I had limited time. So I headed over to the Martin Luther King monument, just around the corner. I took a few shots of him framed in cherry blossoms, but I liked this version best.
No blossoms, but a strong look for a strong man.
Then I checked my watch and realized I had time to visit President Lincoln if I ran. So I did. It was a great run, along the reflecting pool up to the Lincoln Monument. Could I make it up those steps at a run?
Why yes I could. And there was hardly anyone there, so I got a moment alone with the President. He was warmed by the morning sun, glad to see a new day. Me too.
And because I was so close, I jogged over to the Vietnam wall. There were lots of veterans there. I learned later that it was Vietnam Veterans Day, and I had just missed the ceremony.
I didn’t jog past the wall, instead taking my time to walk it, reading a few names from each panel. So many names. So many families. Heartbreaking.
But time was slipping away. So I headed back, moving more quickly, probably my longest run. And it felt uphill at that, though I don’t suppose it was.
A good place to stop and catch my breath was the WWII memorial. I walked through a part of it, paid my respects and kept going.
Heading back over the Washington Monument hill I saw lines of people already forming for the attraction. The sun was fully up. It was time to give the city back to the tourists and be on my way.
I didn’t want to leave.
I had experienced some pretty special moments during my early morning run. Not something I’ll be able to do again soon. Spending a couple days in the Nation’s Capitol turned out to be a gift.
With one last look over my shoulder I jogged toward the metro station and my flight home.
Bye Washington DC. I had a great time. See you soon.
No, not in Michigan, that’s still a few months away. But down in DC? Well, it’s prime cherry blossom viewing down there! And I was lucky enough to have a meeting scheduled there, so in between commitments I went up to Capitol Hill and became a tourist.
It was glorious.
I’d never been in DC during cherry blossom time, so I didn’t know what to expect. I flew in on Easter afternoon, changed into running clothes and figured I’d jog a bit on the Mall, take a few pictures of cherry blossoms, just enjoy some alone time.
I was so naive! When I came up out of the metro (subway) and made it over to the mall I was confronted with a few hundred gazillion tourists, all strolling along. It was like being at the start of a race, when you’re all jammed together and walking (slowly) toward the start line. Except there was never any start line…the crowd just kept meandering along.
So, no running on the Mall that afternoon! What was I thinking? But the cherry blossoms were stunning! The trees glowed under their own power without benefit of the sun.
I moved with the crowd from the Washington Monument where white cherry trees provided a heavenly canopy for people picnicking….
…toward the Jefferson Monument on the tidal basin, surrounded by white and pink trees.
The water was filled with people in paddle boats having fun. The shore was crowded with people taking pictures of people in paddle boats, pictures of trees, pictures of blossoms, pictures of each other, pictures of Jefferson’s monument.
It was so much fun, even though I was cold. I had dressed to be running and I was decidedly not running. But I didn’t care. It was so just much fun! Eventually I got all the way over to the Jefferson Monument….
…and noticed how pretty the Washington Monument was, across the basin, ringed with cherry trees.
The short trek between the two had taken over an hour, and it was getting dark, so I took some side streets back to the metro. I even ran a few blocks, just to say I did.
I will put together one more blog about the sights on the Mall. Tuesday, before my flight, I got up early and headed back to see the sun rising over the cherry trees. You won’t want to miss it.
I couldn’t stop grinning the whole morning.
I don’t want to watch any more political debates. I don’t want to hear any more political ads. No more news anchors talking 24/7 about the what-ifs of this race. I want to skip it all and just come back to reality after a Republican and a Democrat candidate are chosen. When there’s something serious to consider. When I know who to focus on.
But for now I don’t want to hear any more of Trump’s bombastic attacks.
No more trickery from Cruz.
No more rote speeches from Rubio
No more confusion from Carson.
No more Mr. Nice Guy from Kasich.
No more awkwardly pained grins from Bush.
No more defensive push back from Clinton.
No more pie in the sky from Sanders.
But I know the reality is we have months of this, in one form or another. So I think I’ll go for a walk, keep the TV off, not check the news, hibernate a bit.
Let me know when it’s safe to surface.