When I and three friends were being recruited by Liberty University for soccer and went up to the school on our official recruiting visit, our hosts took us to dinner and then to a train track that runs over the James River in Lynchburg.
We were told that the spot was a favorite of Liberty students because the setting resembles that of the train scene from Stand By Me. Students like the thrill of walking out on the bridge, daring one another to go a little farther.
I know; I was one of them.
Counting that recruiting trip, I figure I went out to that spot at least twelve times in the three years I lived in Lynchburg.
I tell you all of this because on Friday, on my way home from work, I heard a quick report on news radio that one Liberty University student had died the night before by being hit by a train. The report explained that one other student was in critical condition, having jumped some 100 feet to avoid being hit. Then, the report said that two students left the scene unscathed by jumping to nearby pilings and one remained safe by hanging below the tracks.
While listening to the reports it was eerie to be able to visualize the exact spot where this tragedy happened, to be able to surmise what likely took place: that these students were getting a thrill from seeing just how far out on the bridge they could walk; that suddenly a train appeared in the distance and it occurred to them in a flash that they were too far out to make it; that two of them were fast enough to reach a place where, when they jumped to the pilings, they were close enough to the tunnel that the leap was not a long distance; the way one of them– in the same way my buddies and I always said we would do if a train were to come– slipped below the tracks and hung for safety until the train disappeared; the way one knew she wasn’t going to have a chance of making it back to safety and knew that jumping 100 feet gave her a better shot of surviving than did being hit by a train; the way that last poor girl, with only a split second to make a decision, knew she wasn’t going to make it to safety, feared jumping to the darkness below, and, likely, just before that train came upon her and took her home, watched her life pass before her eyes and, at 18, asked herself, why did I choose to do this?
I say all of this because, thinking about this tragedy this weekend, I have been unable to escape a single thought: it could have easily been me.
I wandered out on that bridge– a good distance– several times. Each time, I and my friends laughed and joked about how scary it would be and what we would do if a train came. It never did, and we were lucky.
But I think all of this speaks to our belief as people– especially as teenagers and young adults– that we are immortal. That nothing bad can happen to us.
I feel blessed that I escaped unscathed from many poor situations in which I put myself in my past, and I feel terrible for the family of this young Liberty student who, just like I, was only looking to have a little fun and excitement. May God bless them in this of mourning, and may we all counsel and encourage the teens and young adults in our lives about how precious, tenuous, and fleeting our lives are, and how we should go to lengths to protect it, not to encourage its danger.
The young lady’s name was Hannah Williams, and here is the article about the tragedy from the Lynchburg News & Advance.