Fifteen years ago, I was sitting in high school French class on a day not unlike today. It being first period (and French), I remember looking out the window a lot, and noticing an abundance of emergency vehicles passing by – all with their lights flashing but none with the sirens sounding.
As the period neared a close, someone knocked on the door and asked my teacher to step into the hallway. When she came back, my teacher was visibly shaken. “I’m not supposed to say anything yet,” she said. “But I can’t keep this to myself.” One of our school buses had been hit by a commuter train.
My high school was located in a small community. Case in point, the high school was actually conglomeration of kids from two small towns. Most of the kids had grown up together. We’d played on the same soccer teams and been in the same girl scout troops. It was one of those communities where everyone knew everyone else.
And we were also a community that was familiar with the train. The Metra runs right through both towns. Literally hundreds of people from those towns used it every day to commute to and from work. In fact, that same Metra line is the one I take to get to work today. So when we were told that the bus was hit by a train, we knew that the train had won.
Seven kids died in that school bus accident. Five died on scene. Two others died later from their injuries. Over twenty other kids were injured.
For fifteen years, I’ve looked at that accident through the eyes of a student. I’ve thought about how horrible it must have been for the kids on that bus. And I’ve known that because I wasn’t on that bus, I was lucky. But now, as a parent, I am more struck by the accident than I was even back then.
There was nothing the parents of the kids on the school bus could have done to shield their kids from the horror of that day. The parents of those kids did what they were supposed to: they got their kids on their way to school on time. They probably didn’t think twice about it. I know I don’t. Every day I get my kids ready for school, get them in the van with their dad, and then go get ready for work myself. Once the kids are in the van, I assume they are okay. But the accident is a reminder that I can’t really take my kids’ safety for granted.
It’s a fact of life that our ability to protect our kids is inversely related to the kids’ age: the older they get the less we can do to control their experiences. In some cases, this is a good thing. Our kids need to grow and experience life. They need to be able to solve their own problems and handle disappointment. But there are some things we as parents are always going to want to try to protect our children from. The anniversary of the bus accident is a reminder that we as parents, can only do the best we can. It is our job to love our kids, provide them with a good example and hope for the best. We must trust in God’s plan.
Fifteen years later, the community has not forgotten the bus accident. My church held a memorial blood drive this weekend, and the site was decorated with flowers today. And while there aren’t as many blue and white ribbons as there were fifteen years ago, there are still people who remember. And people who are praying for the people affected by that day. Fifteen years later, blue and white still means love, hope, light.