A few days ago I came across some news that I was sure I must have misunderstood.
A Freeport, Long Island, teenager charged with crashing a van into a house, killing a woman gardening, told police she didn’t feel so bad after learning the victim’s age.
Kayla Gerdes, 18, was quoted in a written statement to police saying: “The thing that made me feel not so bad was she was old.” She added, “I mean, 70 years is a long time to live.”
The accident happened on Tuesday, April 20. Police say Gerdes was high on painkillers at 9 am, when she drove a van onto the front lawn and into a house in Hempstead, Long Island, killing homeowner Dr. Rebecca Twine-Wright, 69, who was mowing her lawn. The crash apparently took place after Gerdes took over the wheel from her boyfriend because he was driving too slowly. Other background information on the teen: she didn’t have a driver’s license, had recently been kicked out of a drug rehab program because her mother’s insurance wouldn’t pay for it, and was on her way to court that Tuesday morning to face grand larceny charges for stealing jewelry from her mother.
Today is Mother’s Day, and my heart goes out to Chauncey Twine and his sister Nancy. I didn’t know their mother, but feel that I got to know her by reading some of the comments in her online memorial book: “I was deeply saddened by your mother’s tragic passing. She was truly a blessing among us and a great mother who loved her children deeply” reads one. Here’s another: “I am deeply saddened at the loss of this special woman. I vow to work, tirelessly, on her behalf.” And this: “Know that your mom was a great women, mother, friend, and doctor to many. She will truly be missed. As a native New Yorker and ex-patient of hers, I will miss her laugh and sense of humor.” Let’s hope Chauncey and Nancy can take some comfort from these words.
As Chauncey Twine heard Gerdes say repeatedly on that Tuesday morning that she was sorry, he replied, “She didn’t deserve to die this way. If you’re truly sorry, if you really mean it, then admit to your guilt, plead guilty, tell the judge you want to serve the maximum penalty available under the law.”
“Respect for one’s parents is the highest duty of civil life” according to a Chinese proverb. What bothers me most about the Kayla Gerdes story is her ability to dismiss her elders so easily. But she must have learned it from someone. As a society, we are compartmentalized: communities of young families, others of middle-aged people, and the retirement homes where our grandparents are shunted off to.
But if children are not taught to respect the elders in their family, then those elders will become old and useless in the eyes of the children, just like Kayle Gerdes views Rebecca Wright-Twine.
On this Mother’s Day, let’s re-affirm that every life is equally valuable, from the very old to the very young.
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