In The Woods
I covered the police in several cities – Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C..
I loved that beat, so enthralling for a young man starting out, escaping and unhappy life.
I saw so much of the world most people never see. I was important, I had a window seat on the world, I covered grisly traffic accidents, rushed to the scene of drownings, murders, suicides, gang killings, beatings, robberies, assaults and horrific accidents.
After some years on the beat, I was sent to a dreadful car crash outside of Philadelphia, a family of eight people were dead, strewn all across an expressway. There were blood and bodies everywhere.
I had a police scanner in my car and got there early, i talked to one of the dying children, held the hand of the mother as she died, took some photos before the police came, and tried to close the eyes of the father, whose body was contorted.
When the police and ambulances arrived, I was standing by the bodies whistling and taking notes. My friend, a young and idealistic police sergeant, took me aside when the bodies were all gone, and said, "listen, friend, you need to get off this beat."
Why?, I asked, shocked, I was winning awards, scooping the competition, loving my work, my boss could not sing my praises enough.
Bill put his arm on my right shoulder, and looked me in the eye. "Because it isn't bothering you any more." And he walked away. I woke up and saw that he was right.
I moved to another newspaper and became a political reporter. In a sense, that decision saved me from the fate I later saw in the older police reporters and the old cops. They often seemed dried up and dead inside, unable to feel much of anything.
I tell this story because I had this same sinking feeling living in America in 2017.
I am no longer surprised when someone uses a machine gun to murder hundreds of strangers for no reason. I am no longer surprised when the President attacks people every morning or when he says this isn't the time to talk about machine guns that slaughter children and country music lovers. I personally can't imagine a better time.
I am no longer surprised at the dance between our leaders and the media, both gorging themselves on attention, division and the money it brings, all the while pretending to be enemies. None of them could live a second without the other.
I am no longer surprised that nothing is done about horrors like Las Vegas, or Middletown. Few of our leaders even mention it, they invoked God and the Bible instead and ask us to pray. This is not the time. Good Lord, when might the time ever be? I think they better pray that Jesus is not resurrected again.
I am afraid I am getting used to this. I write on the blog, take some black and white photos, go to the Mansion, do something good for a resident, get back to work. Will people even be talking about this in a week, nobody has enough reporters for all the dramas and crisis and conflicts and tragedies erupting around us.
This morning, watching those images, I was taken right back to that highway outside of Philadelphia, the blood on the streets, the mangled bodies, the moans the screams. Was I getting used to it?
I know the media will show disturbing images of this butchery a thousand times this week, a never-ending loop of horror and trauma. Who among us is healthy enough to watch those videos over and over and over again and not be disturbed by it.
No wonder there are so many angry people on Facebook and Twitter. I must not ever be one of them.
We wouldn't do that to a dog or a laboratory rat, expose them to noise and fear and violence a thousand times, the animal rights people would be hysterical. Where are the human rights people?
And then the waves of panelists come, the endless debate, the ghoulish abuse of the dead and wounded for money and ratings, as if they hadn't suffered enough. Then the debate begins, the rationalization, the outrage. And then, a few days later, another outrage, another tragedy, another hurricane, another cultural war, another bitter conflict without end or resolution.
And is there anyone reading this who believes it won't happen again, or who accepts the ramifications of living in a society and under a government that doesn't really care?
We are sick, we are hurting. We need help.
It's too much for us, but there it is, every day, there seems to be no escaping it, no avoiding it, our country and common, public sphere has become a great whirlpool that sucks us all mercilessly into the muck, every single day.
I won't accept that, I will do better than that, I will not follow their script, I will write my own.
I don't want to get used to it. I don't care about their arguments and rationalizations, I pay no attention to the left and right, they are getting what they deserve.
I don't want to know the script – theirs and mine – before it even unfolds. I don't want the death of my fellow citizens to be a shared ritual, one of the very few.
Today, i went out into the woods, I sat down on a big old trunk, I have sat there before All around me, the leaves are falling, spiraling down on my hat and shirt and boots.
Every man is haunted by the shadow that is his death, and I watch the leaves, they are my brothers and sisters, we both are decaying and fall and spin, it is their fate and my fate.
I feel sometimes that only my sight is left untouched, days, hours, shadows, winds, cries, pass over me as I sink beneath the leaves. Soon, the leaves are a bed beneath me, and I rest easy, there I find the ground under me.
Sometimes I think this is only possible out in the woods, alone or with Maria, away from my brothers and sisters in the world and all the noise they make and the harm they do
It is all right again. I am at peace. I know where I came from, where I am, and where I am going.
I accept the world I live in.
I rise up, out of the woods and back into the world.