Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Fragile--Handle with Care
Note: I started writing this before the horrible events at the Boston Marathon yesterday ... I've decided to continue with it: It has a sad relevance ...
We've all broken things.
When I was in high school, I tossed a small pillow at my brother across the room, misfired, hit an antique lamp, whose gorgeous Tiffany shade cracked into three pieces the moment it hit the floor. The lamp had been in my mother's family since her girlhood. My mother was in the room when it happened. In the past half-century she has reminded me of it, oh, a few thousand times. And I've felt horrible--every time. I feel horrible as I type today.
Later--I broke other objects, ever by accident. Pieces of family china, glassware. I recently dropped my beloved Mont Blanc pen on the floor, broke the nib. I will not tell you how much it cost to repair.
Of course, we "break" other things throughout our lives, as well, don't we? Hearts. Friendships. Relationships of all sorts. I still remember something that happened with a couple of my eighth-grade students--friends since early childhood. Someone intruded in their relationship--a boy. They both liked him. And their fast friendship, among the sturdiest I'd ever seen, broke in a heartbeat. In the ensuing decades, no reconciliation has occurred, not that I know of.
My own heart shattered in the spring of 1963 when my long-time girlfriend, home on break from college, told me she'd found someone else. Until I met Joyce six years later--and learned otherwise--I thought the injury was irreparable. And so I learned: Hearts break easily, but there is one certain and enduring remedy.
Nothing is really very sturdy, you know. A person slowly backing out of a driveway has ruined one of our cars. A small deer totaled another--then limped off to die in the woods. A flash across the sky signaled the ruin of the largest creatures that ever roamed the earth. A Styrofoam cup can kill a whale. In 1983, the great playwright Tennessee Williams accidentally inhaled the cap on a nasal spray and died alone in his hotel room (link to story). Drops of alcohol killed Edgar Poe. Invisible gas killed poet Sylvia Plath. A fall on an icy sidewalk can cause us to limp for the rest of our lives. Bicycle accidents can put us in wheelchairs. A broken blood vessel can destroy the teeming worlds inside our skulls. A moment's inattention can end all.
In the news in recent months have been stories about debilitating mental injuries suffered by NFL players, the most conditioned athletes of our time (link to stories). A single, small piece of shrapnel can easily kill a highly trained and heavily armed soldier. Knee injuries end the careers of NBA players--ligaments so small you cannot see them from across the street. A line drive ruined the career of Tribe pitching phenom Herb Score--not a second passed between the pitch and the practical end of all pitching. Ice crystals brought down the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. In 2008, a train engineer, texting, caused the worst rail crash in fifteen years (link to story). Oncologists cannot find the cells in my body that threaten my life. Hiding in all our chromosomes are genes ticking like time bombs ...
We are such fragile creatures. So helpless as we face the immense, disinterested forces of life.
And then, of course, what we've been doing to one another since the dawn of time. When words fail, violence ensues. Quickly. And words have failed for so very, very long. I cannot convince you--so I will hurt you ... no, I will kill you--and others around you. Strangers. You believe the wrong things. You have somehow hurt me. You worship the wrong god. You vote the wrong way. You wear the wrong clothing. You speak the wrong language. Your skin is the wrong color. You love the wrong way. You ...
Rocks, clubs, knives, lances, swords, bayonets, bullets, bombs, missiles--all have found human flesh so surpassingly easy to damage, penetrate, destroy. We have seen it so often this year. We saw it again yesterday. We will see it again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow ...
I see no way to stop it. Our minds are so fierce, our bodies so frail and fragile.