Shining Down

Shining Down

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Shining Down

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Gandhi

One dark morning while driving to work, my dad, Clayton Kavalinas, swerved to avoid a deer in the road. His car skidded on black ice, hit a guardrail and spun into an oncoming truck. He died in the crash. He was only thirty-five years old. Streetlights could have helped prevent the accident, but there were no lights on that stretch of highway called the Marquis of Lorne Trail on the outskirts of Calgary, Canada.

I was only eleven when he died. I was devastated over the loss of my father, especially when I realized that his death could have been avoided. In a two-year period, my father and one other driver were killed, and twenty-nine accidents happened on that area of the highway. Time and again I thought, How could I find a way to make my dad’s short life really count?

I felt triumphant when I figured out what I could do. I decided that I would try to get some lights put up in that area to help other drivers see better.

Once I figured out what I had to do, I fought as hard as I could to get new lights on that road. But I didn’t realize what a big deal that would be! I was determined and very motivated. I didn’t want what happened to my father to happen to anyone else.

I was studying government in school, and I tried to find a way to increase public pressure on city hall to install lights. With help from my classmates, I handed out flyers at homes and shopping malls, and obtained over three hundred signatures on the petition needed to grab the attention of the politicians in charge of road safety issues. I contacted them, too, and told them what I was trying to do. I was pretty amazed when some of the politicians actually listened to a kid! Finally, there was a meeting at city hall about the need for new lights.

Before the meeting, the local media found out what I was trying to do and reported on the problem. The reporters helped people in the area “see the light” and acknowledge the danger on Marquis of Lorne Trail.

With TV, radio stations and newspapers covering it, more people understood why lights were needed. They also learned what it was like for a child to lose a father. A lot of people told me they were touched and they decided to help. The public pressure began to rise and within four months from the morning my dad lost his life on that highway, the city council agreed to spend $290,000 for new lights.

Sometimes, going through the accident over and over, in order to make a point, was a hard thing to do emotionally. At times, I had hard nights and I cried. But at other times, I’d be really happy and proud that my dad’s life was the one that made the difference in helping to save many other lives from fatal accidents.

I was never so proud in my life as I was on September 16, 1996, nearly a year after I lost my dad. Speaking through a walkie-talkie at the side of the road, I gave a city worker instructions to turn on the lights for the first time. During the same lighting ceremony, I was given a plaque from the City of Calgary honoring me for my public service efforts. Since then, the number of collisions on Marquis of Lorne Trail has been drastically reduced.

While helping many people I’ll never even meet, I think I also helped my mother, my younger brother, Shaun, and my little sister, Kaitlin, become more determined to continue to enjoy life. I helped lift their spirits, and they were there to support me. We all cried together. We all laughed together. We all thought about life together. My dad’s death brought us closer together as a family, making something positive come out of the situation and helping to ease our grief.

But it was really my dad who ended up teaching me a lot about determination, courage and faith. In his own way, through this project, he helped me grow up. I learned that if you’re determined, if you put your heart into something, you can overcome any obstacle. You can accomplish anything.

Life goes on now. The cameras have stopped filming and the civic leaders focus on other problems. But the streetlights will always be there to help me get through difficult times.

I know that I’ll always be reminded of the terrible accident and I’ll still suffer grief from losing my dad, but I gain comfort knowing that area of the highway is now a safer place. I feel my dad’s presence there. I’ll always have the comfort of knowing that every night, a little bit of Dad is shining down.

Michael Kavalinas, sixteen
As told by Monte Stewart

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