I've spent the last month writing a story. This one's a true story. It's a story I should have written long ago, but when I tried... well, the words wouldn't come, or they'd come in a jumbled heap, or they'd flow violently - much like water over Niagra Falls. I started writing this story more than 83 times. I know because that's how many documents I deleted even after crumpling and tossing countless scraps of paper.
This month I wrote the story about how completely... profoundly... and perfectly I was impacted by the fatal 1997 school bus accident involving one of our school buses and our community's students. In all the years since that accident, I have never understood my intense grief. I could understand feeling bad -- what happened was sad and affected every person in our community. I couldn't understand my inability to function.
Having bled the words, I might understand now.
I might understand how the accident was the most heinous thing that could happen while wearing the mantle of responsibility for the company in the absence of my parents.
I might understand how I identifed with the parents who lost their children because mine were so small -- and so intensely beloved.
I might understand how the accident massacred my utter conviction that always doing the "Right Thing" would result in rewards and blessings.
I might understand how being told to never say a word about the accident would cause me to bleed internally.
I might understand that when we least expect it and despite our best efforts, sometimes bad things just happen.
Writing that story took me eleven years, countless hours, and endless Kleenix.
I will be sad about the accident for the rest of my life, but it was a sad event and deserves my saddness.
Of the paralysing grief, I'm free.
In my story, I wrote about what happened that morning and in subsequent days. I explained with brutal rawness how that accident made me feel. I wrote things I never said to myself, even in the darkest hours of night. I wrote about images and memories that tortured me for years. I wrote about my complete and total failure to find a reason for the accident. I wrote about not understanding how sometimes bad things just happen.
For a month, I relived every grief-filled moment of those eleven years and I poured out my heart.
I edited every word and then poured out my heart again.
I wrote and rewrote until that story was a flawless and true account of what I lived for eleven years.
And, with every word burned on my heart, I destroyed my story... and somehow, I found myself.
In the last paragraph I remember writing:
Not long after the court cases were settled, we were invited to speak to a professional association about the crash. I prepared a slide show and notes. I was able to describe not only how we felt about the accident, but also the facts and circumstances, our activities in the days and weeks following, and the ensuing investigations and how we participated in them.
The words flooded out of me; I told everything I could remember -- except the things that can never be told. At the end, I looked at the audience, seeing their hearts in their faces and the tears dripping from their eyes.
One by one, our colleagues stood on their feet and applauded us for representing our industry with courage and dignity. I was humbled. It had been nine long years since driving around the corner and seeing the devastation at that crash site. In that moment, looking at people I so respected, I thought for the first time, “I’m going to be okay.”
What comes next?
I don't know.