Sunday, August 2, 2009

An Old Man's Plea

This past Thursday, I received news that a former Northwestern classmate of mine had been killed by a drunk driver. NU Senior Corrie Lazar was walking along a road in Maine, where she was spending the summer as an arts-and-crafts camp counselor, when she was struck by a SUV that had veered off the road.

I was not close with Corrie. I shared only one class with her, during my last quarter at NU, and I only spoke with her a handful of times. The only interaction that I can recall with clarity was the time she wore a green hoodie to class that read "Ithaca is Gorges." I told her there should be more puns on sweatshirts. She agreed.

Still, I have spent the majority of the weekend feeling unwell, like there's a perfectly round stone lodged in my stomach just above my bellybutton. I won't say that I feel traumatized by what happened - that would be insulting to those who were truly close to Corrie. But there is definitely a deep sadness, to the point where I have found it quite difficult to concentrate on anything over the last few days. I have been somewhat perplexed by this wave of emotion. Corrie is not the first young person with whom I have been personally acquainted who has died in recent years; yet, I do not recall feeling this kind of lasting impact on any of those previous occasions.

I think there are a number of reasons that I have been feeling this way, first and foremost the simple fact that what happened to Corrie is completely unacceptable. It could also have something to do with the fact that all those young acquaintances of mine that have died have been men; Corrie is the first young woman that I have known personally who has died. Maybe I naturally have more empathy for women.

But I think there's another part of it as well, and it has to do with my age. I apologize in advance to those NU friends of mine who have no doubt heard me give more than one "old man" speech in my time. It's a tired spiel, but I ask you to please endure it one more time.

Corrie had just turned 21. She was nearly 5 years younger than myself. The last five years of my life haven't been all roses and sunshine, but I'm certainly happy to have endured it all. It's been far and away the best five-year stretch of my life, largely because of the people I've become friends with at Northwestern. When I first got to Northwestern, you young ambitious kids scared the shit out of me. I really did feel old; but not because I felt any more mature or any wiser. On the contrary, I felt old because, compared to the rest of you, I felt I had wasted a lot of time. I felt I had acted immaturely in comparison. Before I arrived at Northwestern, I didn't think they made 18- and 19-year-olds as bright and hard-working as the lot of you.

So, I'm sure that, for a while, I was bitter and resentful of all of you. But I got over it, thankfully. I found my niche, made some friends, and considered myself lucky to be learning alongside you.

And that's why, as my years at Northwestern went by, my respect for you spawned a keen sense of protectiveness. It literally makes me weak in the knees to think of harm coming to any of you. There's just too much goddamn potential to be lost, certainly more potential than I have ever had or ever will. That's what makes me feel so awful about Corrie's death - that there's somebody that's infinitely smarter, more ambitious, and harder-working than I'll ever be - and she's being cheated out of the five years that I have had, and more.

So to all my friends, but especially to those NU friends who are just now getting out into the "real world," who are now beyond the places where I can keep a watchful eye on you, I say: please, please, be safe. If you are not safe, you will break this old man's heart.

If you would like to make a donation in Corrie's honor to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), visit, click on "Memorial," and write "Corrie Lazar" into the text box.