COMMENTARY: We are all Shane Montgomery
• Wed, Jan 14, 2015
By Thom Nickels
We are all… Shane Montgomery.
Why am I saying this? Let’s start at the beginning.
Shane Montgomery disappeared after a night out with friends that included a stop at one of Manayunk’s most popular hangouts, Kildare’s Irish Pub on Main Street.
While I’ve never been to Kildare’s, I know that there are scores of places like Kildare’s all over the city.
At 21, Shane Montgomery was still a kid, a boy with some "man growth" but essentially still in adult formation mode. At age 21, few of us have a firm grip on reality, even if many 21 year olds pretend that the opposite is true.
Being 21 is not easy. For most 21 year olds, for instance, the tendency is to judge the world, our friends and family, harshly.
I’m not saying that Shane Montgomery judged anybody, but at 21 he undoubtedly found himself in that "almost mature" formation space described above.
When I was Shane’s age I was often in hyper critical overdrive. When I look back on those days I sometimes feel a little embarrassed. Was I really so critical and arrogant?
The twenties is a time when emotions and mental attitudes go up and down like an erratic seismograph. At that age we are on the hunt for what mature philosophers call a centered personal equilibrium.
Shane Montgomery lived in Roxborough, Manayunk’s next door neighbor, so Kildare’s on Main Street probably had a home turf feel for him. When Shane’s friends (and cousin) left him alone at Kildare’s, they probably thought nothing of it. Being alone in a bar is not necessarily a bad thing. People sometimes go to bars alone to meet a special someone because that’s harder to do in a group situation.
Quite a number of people, upon hearing the news that Shane had drowned in the Schuylkill River, offered theories as to what they thought may have happened to him.
Some suggested that he may have accidentally fallen into the river because he was drunk, while others offered the bizarre theory that he was a victim of a so called Smiley Face serial killer.
One off-the-wall theory even suggested suicide.
Shane, the rumor went, had drowned himself in the river because his family was unhappy after he told them that he was gay. This rumor is obviously bogus because had it been true a friend or two of Shane’s would have known this fact long before his parents did. Nothing like this ever came up in the investigation.
What is significant for me is the love and loyalty shown by Shane Montgomery’s family as divers spent almost 2 months searching for his body.
The television news reports were painful to watch, especially the clip of his mother speaking to reporters after his body was found near the Manayunk Brewery.
The magnitude of his parents’ sorrow indicates that they felt only unconditional love for their 21 year old son.
Most of us have encountered risky life situations where we could have wound up as a fatality.
Whether this means stopping your car on the side of a busy highway to change a flat tire, and then getting hit by a passing car; or waiting for the 15 bus outside the Gold Coast bar on West Girard Avenue in Fishtown as that January 3rd shooter fired a gun, wounding two men, and then (for the purposes of this column) innocent bystanders—you or I-- who happened to be standing nearby.
Or how about narrowly escaping (or not escaping) getting hit by a car while crossing Aramingo Avenue?
In some ways, we are all Shane Montgomery because unusual coincidences, like being at the wrong place at the wrong time, can alter our lives forever.
This is true even for those of us who take great pains in avoiding possible mishaps and disaster.
Consider the following family story I heard over the holidays.
My sister-in-law recounted how her fear of flying got her to talk my brother into taking the train, and not the plane, to Florida for a family trip. For my sister-in-law the train appeared to be a much safer mode of transportation despite the fact that the train ticket cost three times what it cost to fly.
Feeling confident that she had life’s unexpected disasters minimized, she packed her husband and two kids into a southern bound Amtrak train, not in the least minding the fact that the sleeping berths for the four of them were very small.
While the first leg of their journey went smoothly, something happened after the train left Baltimore and Washington and headed further south.
As the train crossed a highway, the road toll gates stopping traffic failed to go down and the train hit a car or two, killing one of the drivers. My brother’s wife and kids were thrown out of their berths as smoke poured into the train. For a time they had no idea what would happen to them.
Would they live? Would they die?
By avoiding the "dangerous" airplane, my sister-in-law had experienced a possible loss of life by taking the safer ("I’m being extra cautious") train.
People say about poor Shane: Why didn’t he go straight home? Why didn’t he leave Kildare’s with his friends? Why this and why that, but when we’re really living life or in the throes of a party with favorite friends, we rarely think that one inconsequential choice made along the way will lead to tragedy and death.
I remember the time I hitchhiked near Paoli when I was Shane’s age. With my thumb out standing on the side of the road, I was happy when a Volkswagen stopped to pick me up. But no sooner was I inside the car when the driver looked at me and growled, "We’re going straight to hell!"
What a relief it was when I discovered that the threat was a joke, but what if it had been real?
Suppose the driver had driven me to an isolated part of Chester County and disposed of me in serial killer fashion?
Would my family and friends have asked why I went into a strange car? Why I couldn’t see that the driver was dangerous? And why I just didn’t walk home?
When you’re 21 you don’t think of death as something that could really happen to you. Death is an abstract idea, more remote than watching a Good Year blimp flying out over the ocean and into the horizon.
Any number of things could have happened to Shane Montgomery that night-- small inconsequential events, like taking the train instead of a plane, that somehow put him along the river’s edge and led to his untimely demise.