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A Sobering Reality Check

It was a somber start to the week, even by the standards of a bitterly cold and fog-shrouded Monday morning. As I took my two eldest children to school, I could not but notice the black flag flying above the entrance. It was a stark reminder both that this was a day of national mourning, and that the background to that fiery fatal coach crash outside Verona was a returning school ski trip.

It was also a sobering reminder that, whatever your troubles, supposed or otherwise, there are always people worse off than you. For all the handwringing of those horrified by what President Trump’s inauguration on Friday might mean for the future, for all the anxiety being felt by students and parents across Hungary as children sat their gimnázium (grammar school) entrance exams on Saturday, here was a real tragedy, brutal and cold and clinical. 

Parenthood changes you in many different ways. You would hope the majority of us would respond to such a tragedy with simple human empathy. With three children of my own, I also find it impossible not to wonder what the parents are going through. 

All of us want to give our children those first glimpses of independence, to let them stretch themselves, experience new countries, and different cultures. This was a ski trip, so you might possibly have entertained the the thought that your child could break an arm or a leg, but not this. Never this. And right now there will be grieving parents in Budapest blaming themselves for letting their children go on that trip. 

Yet, if life has shown me anything in my near 50 years, it is that there is nothing to be gained from second-guessing your decisions. My own parents taught me that, as I watched them raising my late handicapped younger brother. They weren’t much for mottos or philosophy, but if they had been their world view could have been summarized thus: “These are the cards I have been dealt, and nothing I say or do can change that.” Their calm, commonsense approach was to get on with life. In the end, there is nothing else you can sensibly do.

But, as ever with tragedies such as this, there are stories to lift our hearts, even from these depths, stories that show us the better angels we all hope we carry within us. Like the student with the presence of mind to grab the emergency hammer and break the window glass, allowing others to escape. Or the teacher, who lost two children in the tragedy, but went back into the bus several times to pull others free, suffering bad burns in the process. Or the passerby who stopped his car to help, and then stayed on the scene for more than an hour translating, because although the Hungarians spoke good English, the Italian emergency services did not. 

It goes without saying that everyone at the Budapest Business Journal hopes for a speedy recovery for those who survived, and sends their condolences to the families and friends of the victims.