Ezkial Crapo was no fool.
By all accounts, the 13-year-old Lenexa boy had a promising future. He was popular, talented onstage and skilled on the athletic field. Well-spoken and well-loved.
The online tributes to Ezkial show that he really made his life count, and that he was an unusually intelligent and articulate young teenager. But after he died on June 22, thousands of people who heard the reports about the boy who tried to run across Interstate 35 on foot no doubt shook their heads and muttered something about how stupid kids can be.
Yes, they can. But the main difference between you and Ezkial — or, if you’re feeling defensive already, me and Ezkial — is simply that his luck ran out, and ours hasn’t. Not yet, anyway.
Unless you’ve spent your life in a padded room, you’ve almost certainly put yourself in great danger at least once. Maybe you have no memory of it because it happened back when you were 13 and doing crazy things with your friends, like Ezkial was that night.
Or maybe you have no memory of it because you never even knew it had happened. Perhaps it was just last week, when you pulled onto the interstate and were too busy fiddling with the radio to notice that you were cutting right in front of an 18-wheeler in fast-moving traffic. You zipped merrily across the lanes and continued on your way, oblivious to the quick moves the truck driver had to make to keep from crushing your car. Hundreds of other tractor-trailers had to make similar maneuvers all across America that day. If you don’t believe me, just ask an over-the-road trucker.
It’s easy to hear Ezkial’s story and wonder how anyone could do such a thing, but virtually all of us, at some point, make miscalculations that could cost us our lives, suddenly or slowly. We get behind the wheel when we’re tipsy, or we decide not to put on the seat belt, just this once. We smoke, we fill our plates with processed food and we set — or sit, rather — ourselves on the track to Type 2 diabetes and other lifestyle-related killers.
I made my own serious miscalculation on a quiet summer day in 1975, in a town nearly 100 miles away from the nearest major hospital. I thought I could make it across an intersection on my bike before the slow-moving car that was headed to that same intersection reached me. I was wrong.
The reason I am here to write my story but Ezkial will never write his is a combination of physics and luck. It’s certainly not because his decision was any more foolish than mine.
Sometimes, of course, luck runs low before we even have a chance to make any miscalculations.
Eight summers before I made the choice that I still carry the scars from, I was born at the same rural hospital that later told the ambulance crew that my injuries were far too severe to be handled there and to get me to a bigger medical center right away. In that hospital nursery with me was another baby girl, a girl whose parents didn’t get the same good news from the delivery room doctor that my parents did. She had spina bifida, and its severity meant that she would grow up in a wheelchair.
She and I spent our childhoods one town away from each other. I got to walk and run and swim, to ride ponies and climb trees, to zip around town on bikes that I made bad decisions on. I would see her occasionally, at school music competitions and in the crowd at ballgames, and I would think about how easily it could have been me sitting in that wheelchair. I wondered if her father and my father had paced the hospital lobby together, anticipating nothing but happy news from the delivery room. Seeing her as we were growing up shaped a part of my personality from a very early age — the part that is gratitude. She doesn’t know it, because we never actually met. I don’t even know her name.
I hadn’t thought of her for years, until I heard about Ezkial. His death in childhood could have been mine, just like that girl’s birth defect could have been mine. Luck has landed on my side — and probably yours — many times. We’d all do well to remember that, and be grateful.