1Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God…28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:1, 28-31, NRSV)
There are times when I wish human beings did not have freewill, the ability to choose good or evil. Such was the case one week ago today when a man had too much to drink but got behind the wheel of his car anyway. And then the tragedy happened. His car was careening down the street when he plowed into 5 members of Boy Scout Troop 161 who were hiking along the shoulder of David Terry Road in Manorville. One of the five, the one fatally injured, was 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, grandson of our church members, Jim and Sally McMorris. Andrew was airlifted to Stony Brook Hospital. The medical staff did all that could be done, but in the early hours of October 1, Andrew died.
The fact that the whole incident could have been avoided makes the grief even worse. It’s my understanding that the driver had been playing golf and drinking at a nearby club. He became intoxicated and chose of his own freewill to drive anyway. It was so avoidable. There are many ways this story could have ended differently. Surely the would-be driver felt the effects of the alcohol, but it didn’t stop him. The driver could have called a cab or Uber. The driver could have asked a friend for a ride home. Someone at the club could have noticed that the man had too much to drink and tried to stop him from driving. The man could have downed bottled water or orange juice all morning instead of alcohol. But he chose none of those options. Instead he cranked up his car and headed down the road where he smashed into members of Troop 161. Besides Andrew, four other Scouts sustained injuries. Fortunately, they were injuries that could heal.
Andrew’s parents, John and Alisa McMorris, issued a statement expressing their “immeasurable loss” and “unfathomable grief.” They also encouraged everyone to “give all your children and loved ones an extra-long hug…and don’t wait for the right time to express love to one another.”
On Friday night, Lori, Colleen, and I drove to the funeral home in Miller Place to offer condolences to the family. We were astonished at the crowd of people who came to show their love and support to the McMorrises. There were hundreds of people including Boy Scout troops from all over Suffolk County who came to honor Andrew. The Scouts paused and saluted at Andrew’s coffin. There were also many firefighters since the local fire department was the official sponsoring organization of Andrew’s troop. Two ladder trucks held either end of an enormous American flag, a tradition we saw time and again in the days after 9/11, another tragedy where people freely chose evil over good.
So what are we to do now? We will do what we did in the months after 9/11. We will come together and offer our love and support to Andrew’s family including Jim and Sally who are part of our Church Family. As you came to church today, you may have noticed red ribbons tied around several trees. The family asked that we do this to remember Andrew.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations go to one of several charities, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Our church will make a donation to MADD in memory of Andrew.
By all accounts, Andrew was a remarkable young man. His family wrote:
“Andrew…was no ordinary boy. [He] was born with a sense of wonder and amazement of the world around him, and he never lost the ability to be awed by and delighted with all it had to offer. Andrew was an artful child, and he channeled his abundant creativity through painting, acting, singing, and playing his piano, guitar, mandolin and ukulele. Always up for a costume, Andrew was the Tin Man in his 5th grade production of The Wizard of Oz (and of course Michael Jackson).
Andrew was an active kid, and was often on the rosters of community soccer and basketball teams. This year, Andrew joined his middle school cross country team and had looked forward to running with his team in his first meet this week. He loved to ski, and looked forward to long weekends and fresh powder. He loved being outdoors, especially hiking and camping trips with his friends in Troop 161. Andrew was a dedicated community member, providing years of service through his participation with his Boy Scout Troop, Cub Scouts, and various school organizations. Serving in Boy Scouts was an honor Andrew was proud of. He dedicated [himself] to obtaining the highest honor of Eagle Scout…[if only he had more time]. He participated in countless fundraisers, community clean-ups, and other projects such as tree planting and gardening.
He loved to travel, and was always up for trips, visits and excursions. Together with his family, Andrew toured parts of Hawaii and Alaska, explored Paris, France, London, England and sailed Disney cruises. Bright and hardworking, Andrew was an Honor Roll student. Classmates, teachers and friends found him sometimes silly, always funny and, occasionally, a bit cheeky. He was a friend to everyone and showed kindness to all.
Andrew was a loving son to Alisa and John, and a dedicated brother to Arianna. And to our larger…community of parents and children, Andrew was our 'son from another mother' and our 'other brother.' But more than any other characteristic, what stands out about Andrew is his desire to fly and his passion for aviation. Andrew wanted to fly before he could walk. Airplanes, helicopters and rockets were the obsession of his life, and he achieved his first piloting goal this past summer during AeroCamp. Andrew was occasionally chided by parents, coaches and teachers for having his head in the clouds, but for Andrew, that only made sense. He wanted his whole self in the clouds, broken free of the bonds of this earth, borne up into an endless sky, with nothing but blue around him and horizon ahead, aloft and away…”
In Isaiah 40 we find these words, “30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Fly high, Andrew, until we meet again beyond the clouds. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
October 7, 2018
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Most Merciful God, our hearts break this morning as we remember the death of Andrew McMorris, as well as others around our world who are victims of drunk drivers. Comfort all who suffer this day from unimaginable loss. Comfort all who have lost loved ones in senseless tragedies. Comfort all who wait as their loved ones hang in the balance between life and death. Give them courage. Give them strength. Give them healing.
Through Jesus Christ we pray. AMEN.