My friend Victor Leonard was killed while out walking his dog early Wednesday night. Murdered, really; by a repeat DUI offender who was once again, driving under the influence.
I still haven't got my head entirely around this latest dose of reality cramps, it's too soon, still have that kicked in the head by a mule sensation of numbness and stunned disbelief.
We hadn't known each other long, less than a year really~ but although I didn't know him for years it felt that way, it was that kind of a connection; we share the same birthday, just on different years. We also shared common interest in most of the subjects I write about, which was as a gift from the universe for me.
A couple of months back Victor adopted a lovable & intelligent pit bull from a rescue shelter, and named him Argus. They were inseparable, Argus even riding along on the back of Vic's Harley in a carrier as many times as not. Victor was a man of complex simplicity. He taught Yoga, practiced Kung Fu, and I always sensed a spiritual warrior within him, a kind of Zen-like calm peacefulness and inner tranquility. He was a botanical wizard, music lover, and father. He was also a prospect member of a local fellowship of motorcycle enthusiasts; The Brotherhood of Old Bikers (BOOBs) whose runs & functions benefit the North Bay Cancer Alliance.
All last night I kept trying to distract myself with one thing or another just to get my mind off things ... yet each time a distraction ended, or failed outright, my mind jumps back to Victor is dead and the grief begins all over again with the same impact as hearing the news for the first time. It's so hard, knowing that I will never see my friend again, on this side of the veil. I feel guilty because just last week I was going to call Vic to see if he and Argus wanted to stop by & visit; then something distracted me, and I forgot to call him, now it's too late.
Driving impaired, on a suspended license, 33 year old Andrew Tungseth careened down Todd road early Wednesday evening in his Toyota Tacoma truck. He drove up onto the right hand shoulder, and ran down Victor and Argus from behind before they ever had a chance...both died at the scene, as Tungseth plowed into two parked cars and sustained minor injuries in the crash. Police detected signs of intoxication on the man, and arrested him for felony DUI manslaughter, & driving while suspended. In his truck they found prescription narcotics, drug paraphernalia and marijuana. Subsequent investigation revealed that Tungseth's license had been suspended for TWO prior DUI's
They say there are five stages of grief, and just now I'm trying hard not to feed the wisp of anger I am feeling inside. Doesn't it always seem to happen this way, some addict or alcoholic who believes he/she is above the law just continues to drive intoxicated on a suspended license; until they finally kill someone. Where is the enforcement of our laws against DUI? Why is someone with a DUI suspension even allowed to own a vehicle? Why do we wait until they kill someone to remove them from the equation in the name of public safety? I cannot help but feel that if the law had done its job properly in the first place, Victor & Argus would still be with us today, instead of cut down in their prime of life by a selfish, irresponsible drug addict.
I think I know what Victor would say if I could hear him right now: He would help me find that place of acceptance within, and make that the first stage of grief instead of the last. He would find some Zen way of telling me that it was all OK, that the universe is just unfolding as it should. Victor would remind me of that which I know so well...that we all come here with a handful of spiritual "contracts," agreements we have with other souls enabling all concerned to balance karma, or whatever. He would say that he and this Tungseth fellow had an appointment out on Todd road that neither was consciously aware of.
I feel so cheated, to lose a friend just like that, in the blink of an eye...no warning; here one minute, gone the next. No more tomorrows...no more heady conversations, no more wry observations on life and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Can't help but feel the universe is testing me, seeing if I walk my talk about unconditional love, intent and forgiveness...or if I revert back to basic human conditioning of hating the man who murdered my friend, and wanting to see him punished. Some may disagree with my calling this a murder, but what else would you call it when Andy Tungseth knew it was illegal for him to drive stoned on a prior DUI suspended license, but did it anyway? He knew there was the possibility of killing someone while driving intoxicated, but he just didn't care. He just didn't care, which in my book equals intent. Murder by arrogance. The 'authorities' who allowed this to happen with our revolving door injustice system are equally culpable in Victor's death. If they had done their duty to the public, my friend and his beloved dog would still be alive today.
More than anger, I feel true pity for Mr. Tungseth, because he is now going to have to face the consequences of his arrogance and selfishness - without the help of drugs to escape the harshness of his new reality. He may come to see the faces of those whose lives he shattered with his uncaring self interest; even as it gradually dawns on him that he has now ruined his own life as well. And what of punishment? What to do with someone like this? Some might say let the punishment fit the crime; instead of jail, just put this loser in a room full of Victor's friends and let things work themselves out. Others might plead leniency, contending addiction is a sickness - and seek to rehabilitate the man, though I have my doubts as to how successful that approach ever is. Buddha would say that committing the crime IS the punishment. For as strongly as I feel my spiritual convictions about non-violence and unconditional love; if they dropped Mr. Tungseth off at my place for an interview I cannot say with total certainty what state of psychological health he would be in when they came to pick him up. In the end, even Gandhi changed his mind about violence, after seeing too many die at British hands.
I am not comfortable with the frequency with which I am experiencing the death of a friend. Victor makes three just in the last year...six over the last four years. It teaches you to really cherish your friends, when you keep getting reminded just how fast they can disappear, without so much as a goodbye. I try to stay positive, but it ain't easy, knowing the grim reaper one day comes for us all, ready or not. The trick then, is to be ready...in each moment of each day. Not to dwell upon it, no, rather to cherish each moment and each interaction, and to live them fully & freely with conscious intent.
Like I said, Victor is probably the only one who isn't pissed at what happened, I think he had that kind of awareness even before his recent change of address. Perhaps it is true that the universe doesn't require our understanding, just our acceptance, because I can find no rhyme or reason to explain why my friend had to die such a hollow, untimely death. We must remember that we don't always get to know why.
One of the many things Victor and I had in common is a love of The Grateful Dead music, and I cleave to that now as a way to keep that connection strong. I like to think of him & Argus on a shiny new Harley...cruising down some astral highway....
"Going where the wind don't blow so strange"
Until Next Time ~ Cherish Each Other
A Song For Victor