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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One last mighty heave

Posted by: Hammer / 2:01 PM

I took a breath and noticed that the air bag was pinkish and that the fabric was almost cloth, rather than the plastic or vinyl I was expecting. Completely deflated it looked like a tongue hanging out of the steering wheel. After that brief moment of reflection, I gave the CD player one last mighty heave and ripped it free from its moorings.

I wasn't sure if I was playing the vandal or the thief. My property claim was settled, in principle, so it wasn't really my car any more. I had told the adjuster I wanted to retrieve some personal items -- my sunglasses and Ms. Hammer's Jamie Cullum CD -- but I couldn't make the CD player spit. I wasn't about to drive to north Saint Paul over my lunch hour just to come home empty handed. So I decided the best course of action was the rip the CD player out of the dash with my bare hands.

There are times when my own shoddy workmanship really comes back to help me. God bless my half-assed installation job.

It took some tugging, but the CD player slid out relatively easily. At least it did once I stopped trying to pull it out and decided I was just going to take it. A week and a half of aggravation was all the incentive I needed.

I piled my personal possessions on the crumpled hood of my once-beautiful Civic. A jack; Big Sister Hammer's paper ankh from our trip to Milwaukee two Labor Days ago; my sunglasses; a couple of maps; the mini tape recorder I used while I dictated the next great American novel while driving to and from work. And, of course, the CD player.

I stuffed what I could in my pockets and cradled the rest against my jacket. It was a surprisingly long walk from my crushed little Civic back to the truck I'm borrowing for the week. I passed row after row of cars, all smashed into different shapes. None of them looked that much worse than mine. Or that much better, for that matter.

Every car there had an owner. Every owner had to put up with the same -- or maybe just similar -- aggravations as I faced. The insurance company's paperwork, a long wait at the doctor's office, strange new pains, the tyranny of used car sellers. The sun was bright and warmed me. I had what I came for. The aggravation was nearing an end.

For as angry as I've been about this affair, it didn't take too much to cheer me up. I'm not going to suggest that my anger was unjustified, but I surely did lose perspective.

I have that feeling, sometimes, that I've ordered my life as I want it. That my plans are sound and my foundations are strong. That my life -- and the goals I set for my life -- should be more or less easy. My life was going well; this accident did knock over my little apple cart of limited aspirations. What I lost track of was how easy it was to set the cart upright and put the produce back. In a couple of weeks, this will be yet another anecdotal complaint that I can whine loudly about during a basketball game or poker hand.

I think true grief tends to be quieter. I think tragedy is almost always whispered. That's probably okay. That's probably the way it ought to be. There's no reason to complain loudly that the child you loved is dead. There's no reason to complain about the inconsiderate doctor or the smarmy insurance agent when you've got real pain and grief to deal with.

I don't know why we have tragedies like the one in Red Lake. I'd love to hear some good ideas on how to prevent such violence from destroying another family. Personally, I think we live in an unhealthy society. We eat awful food, we breathe polluted air, we drink impure water. We do a lousy job of caring for poor kids. We do a lousy job of getting them to doctors and dentists and therapists and counselors. Beyond that, though, we dream the wrong dreams and pursue the wrong goals. We seek gratification rather than happiness, pleasure rather than peace, distraction rather than engagement. In that kind of society, one sick, sad kid falls into an ugly world of hate.

I guess. I don't know this kid. I don't know his community. Vinneeee sent me a link to someone who does:

This is a rare and strange opportunity for me to do something of value in a time of crisis. As most of you know, Red Lake is the reservation where I have spent my time. That school was where I worked with my students. The teacher who is being quoted about getting her children on the floor took my old job. That might be my old classroom. This tragedy strikes right to my heart.

I am very concerned about how it will be put forth in the media --"reservation poverty breeds culture of despair," "Alienated goth student runs amok," "tragedy in the heartland," and so forth. The journalists can't be faulted; they aren't close enough to the event in time and culture to do any more. But maybe I can, because I know the people and the place.

So what I am offering you is something that I wrote several years ago when one of my students died. It will bring you closer to that reservation -- both its poverty and its spirituality -- than anything else you are likely to read. I have always wondered how it would see the light of day. Perhaps it was written just for this moment.

There's a good deal more worth reading.


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  • Minnesota Senators on Schiavo
  • Meet Michael Scott
  • Rapture Monday: 148 and Uterufic
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  • All Their Lies are Belong to Brock
  • Open Source Friday: The Question Now is Why?
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  • The Opposite of True
  • The one where I agree with Dan Quayle
  • Archives

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