The familiar beep of the public announcement system went off and all that I could hear was a voice saying, “Rest in peace, Jane Hong.”
When the Every 15 Minutes program began, someone died or was seriously injured due to a motor vehicle accident involving an intoxicated driver every quarter hour in the United States. On April 26, I became an example of this statistic.
The renowned and accredited Every 15 Minutes program, organized by Eden Medical, is undoubtedly one of the best student activities CVHS offers. Two years ago, the video made for this activity went viral and even won an Emmy award. To be a participant this year was a true privilege and it’s an experience I’ll keep with me wherever I go.
Before the simulated crash portion of the program, the rest of the “living dead” cast and I got our faces painted a ghostly white with black, sunken eyes and gray lips. I could actually feel my energy drain while we acted as spectators during the mock crash scene. When it was over and done, we walked off the field, wiped off our make-up, and got ready to completely separate ourselves from reality.
I immediately received text messages from friends afterwards reminding me how much I meant to them but I turned off my phone; it was too late to know any of that now. I also acknowledged it was important that my family and friends felt my absence so that they could get the full effect of the program as well. I disconnected from the “real world” and put forth all of my remaining energy into the student retreat we attended.
The moment we arrived in Danville, I appreciated the calmness and placidity of the atmosphere. Even though we were just a few towns over, it truly felt as if I was forever away from home.
During the retreat, the parents of Livermore’s David Goddard came to speak to us about the recent loss in their family. Just six months ago, Goddard crashed while driving intoxicated and did not survive. We watched his father struggle to find the words to describe his son’s personality and fight back his overwhelming emotions. By his side, his wife was noticeably crying, and he continued to say that their son’s death is still a reality they haven’t come to terms with. Just a few weeks ago, they had called him down to join them for breakfast only to slowly realize he would never be joining them again.
Later, we were asked to write letters to our families or friends as if we had just passed away. In my head, I thought of a million things I wanted to say and leave behind; but when the time came to sit down and actually jot them down, I realized I didn’t quite know how to articulate my thoughts. How could I even put into words what my family and friends mean to me? How could I ever explain my regrets, sorrows, and even my joys in life? Did they know how much I appreciated them and that I was sorry my actions didn’t always reflect my love? Needless to say, I rewrote my letter at least five times before concluding one. But that one letter still wasn’t and isn’t enough. I have yet to find my last words and to be frank, I’m not quite sure I’ll ever find them.
We then entered the most emotional part of the retreat as we sat down and shared what part of the program impacted us most thus far. We stumbled upon the things that made us so human that it hurt. I realized we were all mindless teenagers living with a misconception: we believed we were invincible, incapable of destruction, and we foolishly believed we had obtained immortality. We even believed we were damaged and unfixable. We were afraid of what was and what would become. We were vulnerable and weak.
That vulnerability stayed with us throughout the next day while we sat and listened to the stories, watched the videos, and heard the student and parent letters.
There are many skeptics who believe that the effect of this program is merely temporary, that the feelings of self-worth and gratefulness wither away with time. I hope to prove them wrong. Regardless of the fact that the crash is simulated and the fates of the students are pre-determined, the emotions that are evoked due to this program are completely genuine. Tears weren’t shed that day because we believed the crash was real; we cried as much as we did because we felt the potential pain of a real accident as we related to the student letters and felt the sadness of parents losing their children.
But this program is about much more than drinking and driving; it’s about making smart decisions. It’s about recognizing your responsibilities. In a generation where we celebrate mottos such as “You only live once” to a point where the meaning almost becomes a mockery, we often make the mistake of living as if life is forever. Every 15 Minutes is just one of the necessary reminders that life is precious and fleeting: it’s up to us to make it count.
The crash scene wasn’t real and the deaths of the crash victims and living dead cast weren’t either. But presently, every 51 minutes, someone dies or is seriously injured in a drunk-driving accident. If you were to drink and drive or even text and drive, how could you ever think that you were the exception?
I may not have really died but a part of me sure did: the part of me that’s irresponsible, ungrateful, and selfish. I’ve learned that I am not invincible, and I’m sorry I ever thought I could survive what most people couldn’t.