OPINION: What happened to Canadian couple Connor Hayes and Joanna Lam as they innocently drove along one of New Zealand's most spectacular stretches of road last week has been in the headlines for good reason.
Not only were they the kind of young people we all like to know or hear about - talented, happy, in love and on the threshold of a new chapter - but at bottom we all know that their end, or something akin to it, could have befallen any one of us.
Fate claimed them. Had they been a few second quicker along the road, they would have lived on. Perhaps they would have been forever oblivious to a near-miss.
Perhaps they would have known, and could have entertained their children and grandchildren with the tale of how death stalked them on a New Zealand mountain pass but they eluded it by a hair's breadth.
It wasn't to be. For a reason that nobody can adequately explain, they were in precisely the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, apparently hit by a landslide that swept their rented van over a precipice and into the raging, boulder-strewn Haast River at a point where they had no chance of survival.
It is a tragedy that cannot fail to touch the hearts of everyone who reads of it or sees the image of the van's twisted chassis wrapped around a giant rock in the riverbed, a testament to the immense power of the floodwaters.
Kiwi hearts are silently reaching out to the parents, families and friends of the couple, knowing that the distance enlarges their pain, even though they could do no more if they were on hand.
This kind of random, unfathomable accident can raise all kinds of questions in the minds of those who are close to the victims and those who are not. What are the statistical chances of being hit by a slide or coming across one moments after it happens, with no time to stop?
How is that a fine young couple were taken? Why them? If people had to be taken, why couldn't it have been those near the end of their days instead of near the beginning, full of promise and possibilities?
Priests, prophets, soothsayers, poets and philosophers have grappled with such unanswerable posers through the ages. They can often give succour to those of faith but they are essentially attempting to explain the inexplicable. All that we really know is that it happened, yet another reminder of nature's power and unpredictability, and of the uncertainty of life itself.
One body has been found and that is some small relief. It would be easy to offer criticism of the pair for driving on in a wild a storm when others were turning back but that would be both unfair and unkind. The road was open.
If we must find a lesson in what happened to the couple, it is this: savour life. Take opportunities and make the most of the time we are given. We live on a pile of assumptions but actually, we never know how long we've got.
- © Fairfax NZ News