Coping with tragedy

On June 28, York Regional Police Constable Garrett Styles was killed during a routine traffic stop. The 15-year-old driver of the car accelerated, dragged him for 300 metres and rolled on top of him. To call this a tragedy hardly encapsulates how great a loss this event was.

Sadly, the crown attorney has turned to revenge, helping to create more suffering and not less. Think of how destructive their desire to lock up this 15-year-old boy for life is. This will stop this young boy from ever spending a night home with his family. This will cost him his friends. This will cost him not just his youth behind bars but his entire life.

Think about the wider destructive message this sends to people in our society. The crown attorney is essentially arguing that if you make a bad mistake, then you should be locked up for the rest of your life. Does our society really have that little compassion?

One dimension of imprisonment has been explored by Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk from West Perth, Australia. He discusses how messages like this tell young people that people that are evil should be destroyed or locked away. What happens, then, when young people come to view themselves as bad or evil? Will they not treat themselves with the same destructive intentions instead of a desire to make up for their mistakes?

It is important to fully contemplate the scope of this incident. The most evident part is the loss of a young father and husband, Constable Garrett Styles. His wife, children, extended family and close friends will never recover the lives they once had. A promising career cut short, a family shaken to its foundations, dozens of people brought unbelievable suffering and one precious and unique life gone forever.

The less evident part of this tragedy is the suffering a young boy has to experience as a result of his mindless actions. This young boy is now unable to move his legs or arms. No longer will he be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a summer stroll, playing any kind of sports or biking with friends. Many great things are lost to him. The boy’s parents have to suffer too with feelings of guilt, fear, and sadness. Most painful of all, his actions killed a loving and caring husband and father. This means he will spend countless moments trying to do the hardest thing of all: forgive himself — a difficult thing I would not wish upon anyone.

If you take one minute to contemplate how tragic the entire event was, it is hard feel anything else but deep sadness.

We should take the lessons of Styles’s death to heart in our own lives. Our own lives are filled with the potential for events like this. How many times have our mindless actions hurt others around us and ourselves? This tragedy can move us to be more mindful and considerate in our own actions to insure we do not cause this kind of suffering to others or ourselves, something that cannot be said for the crown attorney’s desire to imprison someone for life.

This principle, that helping to relieve suffering is the right thing to do in a tragedy, is demonstrated most clearly by Constable Garret Styles’s actions themselves. He was so caring that when he, while pinned by the van, radioed in multiple times to express concern about the driver of the van. When we are truly mindful of the entire tragedy and committed not to spread any more suffering, how could we honour this man’s service by destroying the 15-year-old boy’s life more than it already has been?