On July 2, 2011, a couple in their mid-forties and their three young children were returning home to Houston from their vacation in Colorado. It was late in the evening and they were relatively close to home, when a vehicle in the opposite lane veered out in front of them and hit them, head-on. Joshua Bryant Berry and Robin Perlo Berry were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Their young daughter suffered multiple bruises and a broken leg and arm. Their two young sons suffered severe spinal injuries and are paralyzed from the waist down. Their future is as yet unknown, but their friends, the Houston community and now a large number of prominent figures in the entertainment world, are gathered together to help contribute to the enormous medical expenses that will be needed to cover the problems these children will undoubtedly experience, as well as to help, hopefully, with the expenses for their education, etc.
If ever a community needed to heed the words of Rabbi Kushner, in his book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, it was then. Josh and Robin weren’t run-of-the-mill people. They dedicated their lives to involvement in the community and giving to others. They had a mutual concern and love for their fellow man and they were cherished and loved for it by so many people in the Houston area. Those who knew them will mourn them in their own ways, but all of us need to make sense of the heartbreaking tragedy that befell them, because each of us knows that, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”. You might attribute their loss to fate, declaring it was something you have no control over and, certainly, that’s so. You may feel anger over their deaths and question your faith. You might even steep yourself in long-term feelings of despair and depression over their loss. But, none of those reactions are healthy, meaningful or a tribute to their memory.
There is, however, a far more positive and personal way to honor these people and to benefit as a result of their tragic loss. That is to let their lives serve as a lesson that can contribute to the beginning of a new way of life that each of you can adopt from this day forward. In some ways, that has already begun. Many of you have already initiated, participated or supported the community activities, including a bake sale to raise funds for Peter, Aaron and Willa’s medical expenses. Others of their friends and family will be there to help them in the future. Moreover, I suspect that shortly after hearing about their accident, every one of us stopped for a moment to reflect on how abruptly our lives can end and how fragile life really is. I cannot begin to count the number of individuals I have spoken with who, after hearing about the Berry’s accident and deaths, went to their attorneys to revise their wills, in order to ensure that there is money set aside for education and medical care for their children, should something happen to them. All, as a result of this incident, began to give greater, more serious thought to searching, to designating who would care for their children after their demise.
In many ways, it makes you think that we all hang by a thread which can break at any time. It’s as though we live life the same way we travel on a zip line. In the beginning, as children, we start slowly, with apprehension and hesitation. As we age, time appears to travel at an ever-increasing rate of speed, such that a year seems to pass as quickly as a day used to. All the while, we totally preoccupy ourselves with a myriad of insignificant activities and projects, countless concerns over trivial worries and a mixture of what we perceive to be life-affecting events, hopes, dreams and disappointments.
It’s ironic that only when we come close to the end of our line do we begin to reflect on the excitement and challenges we experienced and the fears and anxieties we conquered. It’s then that we wish for the opportunity to try it again, to do it better the second time around and to enjoy it more. But, in life, you only get one try. Therefore, you must use whatever time you have left on earth to live it better, to make it meaningful, and appreciate it more.
This is the legacy that Josh and Robin Berry left for each of us. It is a lesson we need to keep in the forefront of our minds, teach to the next generation and, most of all, to give thanks to them for reminding us to do so.