Blameless

I was a freshman in college when I met the Whites. They were completely different from my own family, yet I felt at home with them instantly. Jane White and I became friends at school, and her family welcomed me, an outsider, like a long lost cousin.

In my family, when anything bad happened, it was always important to place blame.

“Who did this?” my mother would yell about a mess in the kitchen.

“This is all your fault, Katharine,” my father would insist when the cat got out or the dishwasher broke.

From the time we were little, my sister and brothers and I told on each other. We set a place for Blame at the dinner table.

But the Whites didn’t worry about who had done what. They picked up the pieces and moved on with their lives. The beauty of this was driven home to me the summer that Jane died.

Mr. and Mrs. White had six children: three sons and three daughters. One son had passed away in childhood, which may be why the surviving five siblings remained so close.

In July, the White sisters and I decided to take a car trip from their home in Florida to New York. The two oldest, Sarah and Jane, were college students, and the youngest, Amy, had recently turned sixteen. The proud possessor of a brand-new driver’s license, Amy was excited about practicing her driving on the trip. With her endearing giggle, she showed off her license to everyone she met.

The big sisters shared the driving of Sarah’s new car during the first part of the trip, but when they reached less populated areas, they let Amy take over. Somewhere in South Carolina, we pulled off the highway to eat. After lunch, Amy got behind the wheel. She came to an intersection with a stop sign for her direction only. Whether she was flustered or distracted or just didn’t see the sign no one will ever know, but Amy continued into the intersection without stopping. The driver of a large semi tractor trailer, unable to brake in time, plowed into our vehicle.

Jane was killed instantly.

I survived the accident with only a few bruises. The most difficult thing that I’ve ever done was to call the Whites to tell them about the accident and that Jane had died. As painful as it was for me to lose a good friend, I knew that it was far worse for them to lose a child.

When Mr. and Mrs. White arrived at the hospital, they found their two surviving daughters sharing a room. Sarah’s head was wrapped in bandages; Amy’s leg was in a cast. They hugged us all and cried tears of sadness and of joy at seeing their daughters. They wiped away the girls’ tears and teased a few giggles out of Amy as she learned to use her crutches.

To both of their daughters, and especially to Amy, over and over they simply said, “We’re so glad that you’re alive.”

I was astonished. No accusations. No blame.

Later, I asked the Whites why they never talked about the fact that Amy was driving and had run a stop sign.

Mrs. White said, “Jane’s gone, and we miss her terribly. Nothing we say or do will bring her back. But Amy has her whole life ahead of her. How can she lead a full and happy life if she feels we blame her for her sister’s death?”

They were right. Amy graduated from college and got married several years ago. She works as a teacher of learning-disabled students. She’s also a mother of two little girls of her own, the older named Jane.

I learned from the Whites that blame really isn’t very important. Sometimes, there’s no use for it at all.

K. J. G.

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