Friday morning, on a day when life slows down a bit for me, after some early morning errands, it was time for my weekly mowing regimen, that is, until cascading rains short-circuited that plan.
Despite having my column slot already filled for this week, since I generally pen my pieces about a month out, I had something on my mind, something pressing enough to do what I’ll sometimes do, which is to send a replacement column on to my editor, Dave Trinko.
As I periodically glanced out the window, looking at the big drip and trying to avoid hearing the grass grow, I started gathering my thoughts surrounding the recent sad news involving the demise of a 22-year-old Cincinnati-area boy. While there will be those who will tell you that, at 21 or 22, someone is an adult and should be far less likely to suffer terrible lapses in judgment, as far as I’m concerned, years pass after one’s legal age before he or she leaves behind the afflictions of youth.
And so it was that Otto Warmbier made the final payment for what has impacted so many young people since the dawn of time, poor judgment.
Gazing out at the rain, I couldn’t help but think of the funeral just a couple of hours or so down Interstate 75 the day before and the sorrow that must have been felt by friends and family, especially his mom and dad. For me, it is indeed life’s cruelest hoax when a child, one parentally nurtured and loved, predeceases his or her parents. In Warmbier’s case, his parents knew his death came not as he was fighting for some cause he deemed greater than himself. Rather, it came as a consequence of an ill-advised adventure to an unwelcoming and unfriendly environment and some innocuous petty thievery that, somehow, in the eyes of a rigid and totalitarian government was deemed heinous enough to sentence him to 15 years of hard labor.
While I know that to everything there is a season, even unto death, it always seems to me so unutterably wrong when the natural order of mortality is flipped. I’ve seen it up close with dear friends, and that is why I grieve not only for Otto but for his parents.
Certainly only those within that regime know what really happened to a healthy college senior-to-be that led to his unresponsive and comatose condition 16 months after a sham trial, and I don’t profess to know. However, like many of you, I have my suspicions. What I feel I do know is the claim that he was released for “humanitarian reasons” is laughably disingenuous and more a case of those who held him captive were fearful that he would succumb under their watch.
As for the poor decision to visit such a foreboding place, Warmbier, I’m guessing, like so many young people, couldn’t fathom a scenario where any harm could possibly come to him. After all, he was young and vibrant and had his dreams and destinies that must be fulfilled. He was, as the young so often feel, and, as I once felt, indestructible, impervious to harm.
As for his parents, I’m guessing that they agreed to the trip as a show of good faith that the young man they raised and of whom they were so proud should go out and do what so many have intoned to youthful charges in commencement speeches, which is to go have an adventure, albeit one framed by prudence.
But, sadly, prudence and youth so often make such strange bedfellows, and disastrous consequences can result. Most will remember in late May 2005 on the island of Aruba, a graduating high school senior named Natalee Holloway disappeared after she left her classmates at a local watering hole and got into a car with three young locals.
That was just 48 hours before I walked off a cruise ship and on to Aruban soil for a port-of-call day. Days shy of 54, I was vacationing and celebrating the end of my teaching career while a young girl, not yet 19, would vanish into thin air never to be seen again.
In each of these sad cases, I was amazed by some adults and their insensitivities. Not long after returning from that cruise, I went to a cookout. While talking to a group of people and telling them about the immediate aftermath of Holloway’s disappearance that I witnessed just hours after she was last seen and the missing posters I saw being hung in the entertainment district, posters featuring a photo of Natalee and her mom, I was appalled by something I heard. One woman shook her head and provided her own succinct summation of the news story by saying, “What a dumb bitch.”
Last year when the Warmbier story hit the news cycle, an alleged comedic commentator named Larry Wilmore, then a regular on Comedy Central, set his sensitivity bar so low a snake could slither under when he mocked the video of a panic-stricken young man’s coerced confession and his “crocodile tears,” referring to him as an ignorant “frat bro” who never should have been in North Korea in the first place.
For those who react to the improvident, tragic missteps of someone else’s child, I have to wonder how old you need to be to have forgotten those moments and those decisions of their own youth when their own impulsive moments could have turned out so very differently. What’s that they say, “There but for the grace of God …”?
So for all the young people who paid such a heavy price for their impetuosities and their inabilities to see far enough down their roads to recognize with heightened visual acuity the dangers that lurked, I pray for you. And for those who are older whose sanctimoniousness and insensitivities impede any recollection of those times in their own lives when frontal lobes weren’t fully formed, I can only shake my head.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.