A Sadness Beyond Words

This is a unique column for this scribe. All I know of the cases involved is what I read in the Lake City Reporter. Being a father, grand father, and great grand father, I can only say, the tragic deaths of the teenagers in our neighboring city is SADNESS BEYOND WORDS. For me and my wife Ann, I express our deepest and most profound sympathy to those who survive and who seek answers that will probably never come.”
Reading the story and knowing that tragedies often come in the form of accidents, my judgments here would be useless. When I read of the events, my thoughts carried me back 60 years ago when I was a boarding student in a private school in Southern Georgia. We too were teens, obsessed with the ideas of reaching new highs of feeling which were not normal. Something new was always in circulation and anything that offered us a challenge or a new experience’, we were all for it.
One week we discovered an unused cable 300 feet long. We nailed the wood steps needed and mounted the century old oak tree, slashed the cable at the top and secured it. After greasing it we put a 12-inch pipe on it. With the help of a number of students, we stretched the cable and fastened it to a 2×10 post, slanted in the ground to hold the weight. Lewis Clarke was selected as the first of many to be launched into space on the cable. We could just see the “aviator” zipping down the cable at break neck speed. Our engineering knowledge was a flat zero.
When Lewis took hold of the pipe and pushed off from the top of the tree, the cable sagged and bit into both ends of the pipe, suspending him some forty feet in the air. He was just hanging there hollering. We were on the ground just laughing our heads off. We finally ‘shook’ him down dismantled the cable and that was the end of our ‘cable slide’. No, we didn’t give danger any thought; we just thought how much fun it would be!
The newest thing going down in the dorm was cutting off the blood flow to the brain by clipping the jugular vein with the thumb and forefinger. The victim would faint and fall on the bed, as the blood rushed back to the brain. We thought this was funny. Even the boy’s dorm supervisor was done in the same way, much to the delight of the boys. This was just a HARMLESS (?) EXPERIENCE, something new every day. No, we didn’t give danger any thought; we just thought how much fun it was.
Billy Billingsley was a solid 200 pounder, all muscle. He had a different idea. He would put his arms around the chest of another, and while the willing victim would take a breath and hold, he would squeeze and hold solid pressure for about 30 seconds. Somehow the same effect was gathered, and one by one, we would fall helpless on a bed or back into a lounge chair.
This was done to a lad named Charles Williams, and he fell on the bed and we all laughed. But he didn’t recover like the others. We knew that he was just play-acting and we goaded him, “come on man, get up”. But he didn’t. Someone shouted, “Get the dorm supervisor, and he came rubbing his hands and pleading with him to come to. Precious minutes passed and panic gripped each of us. The President of the school came. His face was ashen when he turned to us boys and said tearfully,” boys, I so sorry but there is no pulse, he’s dead”. As we were leaving the room we heard Williams struggle in a gasp for air. We nearly killed each other trying to get back into the room. An ambulance had been called but since the school was 15 miles from the nearest town, the waiting time seemed like hours.
The ambulance left with Charlie in a cloud of dust, sirens blaring while we were all crying and praying. “It was just an innocent game”, we thought, no one could ever be hurt by some little trick like this”.
Williams recovered.
It was no joke. We all grew a little bit that day, just knowing that something that seemed so innocent and so much fun, could be so deadly.
This column is written with fearful hands. It is dedicated to teens. Each generation seeks it’s own levels of thrills and dangers. Just think that 60 years ago, we practiced self – asphyxiation, with the help of others. We played with death under the name, “It’s just an innocent game, nobody could be hurt by it”.
Justin Lane’s powerful article entitled, “BRANFORD DEATHS SPARK CONCERN FOR LOCAL YOUTH” concluded, ” It is important for parents, school and law enforcement to educate themselves about the practice and discuss how to prevent it from happening.”
King Solomon wrote, “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. . . She is more precious than rubies . . . the length of days are in her right hand . . . Let them not depart from your eyes . . keep sound wisdom and discretion” (Proverbs 3). I could have sure used these simple yet powerful instructions when I was a teenager but nobody back then wrote a column about it.


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