Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Life is for the living

Last Saturday there was a high-speed chase down Washington Avenue. The police were after a young man who had stolen a car. He went off the street and crashed into the building that houses the charity where I volunteer, in the process taking out the box that supplies power to the building.

The young man died. Power to the building could not be immediately restored. There was some part involved in replacing the damage that would take a few days to get. They rented a generator to keep the refrigerators going in the kitchen, and so they could serve breakfast Monday morning. The rest of the building could keep going without power, though not as lively as it usually is.

The cubicle where I usually talk with clients is in the middle of the building, a place that is quite dark without power. So Monday morning, I was talking to clients in a now nonfunctional computer lab, because it has windows, reviewing their needs within earshot of others. No one seemed to mind the lack of privacy. I suppose people who are overly embarrassed by their situation don’t come to us. We could still give people food, fliers about where else to get food and clothing vouchers. I couldn’t use the computer as I usually can to print out information for clients about anything under the sun, but I know enough about jobs, housing, and health care off the top of my head to be helpful. One woman was particularly grateful to learn the county does pay for a few visits to a doctor and dentist for homeless who have no other coverage for health care. It’s amazing how many services there are that few people have heard of.

After a couple of hours, I was feeling irritable. That usually does happen when I volunteer. The emotional burden piles up. I don’t know if it was more the darkness or the increasing summer heat that was making it more intense this day. Maybe it was both.

I’ve come to appreciate in recent years how much I dislike darkness. I’m not afraid of it. It’s just oppressive. I can do more in the light. I’m faster in the light. One of our case managers has this habit of not turning on the light to her office. I walk in there a lot. It’s necessary for the few papers I need to push around. Eventually I asked her if I could turn the light on. She said, “Thank you”. Oh, I thought she wanted it off. No, not exactly. Now I just turn on the light whenever I walk in. She stills says, “Thank you”. Why she does is a mystery to me. I guess it’s just one thing I do for me that someone else doesn’t need or doesn’t want enough to do, but it’s still for the collective best. I want the light on enough to turn it on instantly when I see a dark room. Whether some people like the darkness or have more tolerance or other priorities is beyond me. I just know I’ve had enough of the dark, when I have a choice.

So here we were with even more darkness than usual and decidedly more heat. It’s that dead guy’s fault. I was already feeling strange realizing how much indifference I felt toward his death. I don’t know when he chose death, whether it was when he stole the car or when he ran from the police, but at some point, he chose his death. I suspect he could have made a better choice, but who knows?

What I do know was that the way he died was creating some discomfort for a lot of people. Something in me says the discomfort shouldn’t matter compared to a man losing his left. Something else says this jerk must have lost his life a long time ago. It was his death that was playing out for years, no longer his life, as it is for many clients I see and many public figures I learn about. So why not finish that play, tragedy as it is, in a way that doesn’t inconvenience so many people?

This comes up a lot, not only when people die who seemed determined to die, but also when people act up out of their own misery, creating problems for others. That runaway bride who started in Georgia and wound up in Albuquerque comes to mind. I’ve always been able to be forgiving for such people, maybe not as easily as some, but more than most. Still there is a mixture of feelings.

This young man in the stolen car at first generated no forgiveness from me. If I knew something about him, that would change. Now that Monday is over, I don’t mind the experience. It gave me something to think about. It doesn’t make his death worthwhile. His death was a waste no matter what came of it. Dumb kid.

Monday I was indifferent to his death. Everyone was. There were things to do in the present. There was nothing to do about whatever aspects of our society leave a young man to choose stealing a car as his best option for that moment. How dumb is that?

Maybe it’s artificial. First I’m indifferent to this thief. Then I’m angry for the darkness and heat he caused. Then I forgive him by saying he chose what society gave him to choose, and I indict society in the same breath. Some might forgive society in the next breath, but I have this long list of indictments of society from previous cases, about which no one has gotten society’s attention.

No, it’s not artificial. Maybe it’s all biology. Maybe there’s something spiritual, as well. What does it mean that society’s defenders are so much more articulate these days than society’s detractors? I’m afraid it means nothing good. Society has some high-priced lawyers working for it. I just have my rage.

Society has given me air conditioning and lights most days. I can’t get that mad if I am not given them this one day. But it’s that discomfort that reminds me that the worst darkness is not cured by turning a light switch. It is the same as when I walk into a dark room and instantly want to turn on a light. So it is when I look at our culture and see the hatred, indifference and falseness. Where’s the switch for that?

The only switch I know is God. It’s strange to say that when so many use the word “God” to further hatred, indifference and falseness. They don’t know the real God, or they wouldn’t use Him this way.

Get up, God! Get up, and beat the crap out of all Your enemies! It’s like what people wrote in the Old Testament. It’s not what happened.

It doesn’t work that way. The light of God comes slowly, as a dawn, not as a switch. That so many spew darkness and call it light is nothing new. They are dead already. Life beckons for the living, not through death, but through life.


The Lizard Queen said...

What does it mean that society’s defenders are so much more articulate these days than society’s detractors?

I'm not sure I'd say that society's defenders are more articulate--I think they're often just louder. And while I'm sure there are ample people out there who aren't entirely happy with the status quo, I think the bottom line is often simply that the status quo is familar, and change is frightening.

I hope the power is back on at the volunteer place, or that it will be soon!

DavidD said...

They are certainly louder than you or I. Many are louts, too. Some of society's detractors are loud and loutish, of course. Before he was Vice President, Walter Mondale impressed me by how loutishly he was screaming for jobs in a speech. It was to a union audience, so it worked at the time. Now that unions don't mean much to national power, what worked before doesn't work now.

Change is guaranteed, so one can be motivated to lose one's fear of it. I can hate change, like when the power goes out, but with practice it's not necessary to fear it. Still I'd rather be 30 forever. I really would. Just wait. You'll see. My MRI is today. Thank God. It really is like my shoulder is going to fall off one of these days. How can I type then?

I can know intellectually that one generation replacing the next is the only way humanity ever got anywhere near God, but I must say I sense some resistance in myself to the speed of such replacement going even faster.