Monday, February 06, 2012


I wrote this last week ...

I'm reading this book about how life is a story that you write for yourself (or others, or for show, or money, or whatever reason floats your boat).  I think the point is that we should start writing better stories, but I'm only in chapter two, so I'm not yet in long-term-implication mode.    

In the book, there's an anecdote about how one father reformed his 13-year old, pot-smoking daughter by having a family meeting in which he disclosed his commitment (legal commitment as in contract) to raise $25,000 to build an orphanage in Mexico.  This, apparently, worked like a charm because SHE REALLY JUST NEEDED A BETTER KIND OF RISK TO TAKE.


We need to choose better risks.  Or, any risk at all.  That's it. 

As I'm writing this, Brian is at a funeral for one of his former soccer players.  A teenager who, along with two of his four brothers, was run over by a 20-year old driver while walking home from school.  We don't know details about the driver except that he did not call 9-1-1.  Instead, he went home, and a witness made the call.  We don't know details about his level of blood alcohol or gang status either.

But really, what details are more important than "teenager killed, brothers injured while walking home"?

I have to ask myself: Did that family just need a "better kind of risk"? 

Sometimes I get like this:  I can't read fiction because it's too silly and too much of an attempt to escape, but I can't read nonfiction for the same reason.  And when books can't satiate me, you know that things are rough.

Besides reading, I have lately been sitting around fantasizing about making over my bedroom (a new project that is remarkably safe and about as UN-risky as Mr. Rogers's sweater collection).  Meanwhile, across town, some mother is preparing to bury her child. 


God must be so sick of that question.

All of this makes me pause.  I pause to think of his parents, his brothers, his friends ... his grandparents back in Mexico who were no doubt supportive of his parents' decision to come to a better country.  But I especially pause for his mother, of course.  Because something tells me she uprooted her family and moved to America for a less risky life.  And it has probably been hard for them even before this.  They have likely moved around a lot, worked menial jobs, and scraped by.

So there is this paradox of risk: Some are good/safe/desirable; some are not.  And I think that gets to the heart of tragedy, really: When one is NOT taking a risk, and one encounters hardship, then we call that tragic.  I know that Carol Burnett once said "Comedy is tragedy plus time," but I'm just not sure that applies when first-born children are killed. Or any children, for that matter.

Side note:  I just googled "Did Carol Burnett have kids" and found this:  Carol Burnett married thrice. She divorced her first husband Don Saroyan in 1962 and married TV producer Joe Hamilton in 1963. This marriage lasted for 21 years, in which she had three children - Carrie Hamilton, Jody Hamilton and singer Erin Hamilton. Carrie Hamilton took to durgs when she was in her teens. She got over the addiction with the help of her husband but later succumbed to brain and lung cancer. Her death in 2002 at the age of 38 left Carol Burnett devastated.

I wonder if her quote came before or after the death of her first born?

So. I would like to submit a new definition of tragedy:  Tragedy is when someone or a family of someones does not have a choice (on a daily basis -- which is different from the consideration of accidents) about their level of risk.  When they live in a bad neighborhood, for example, because that is all they can afford.  When they have to send their kids to a failing school because that's the one that provides free transportation.  When they are forced to work during the hours that their children will be walking home from school on a dark street in that same bad neighborhood.

So I guess instead of asking God, "Why?" those of us who can should really be thanking God that we are able to choose our risks (to some degree).  Of course accidents can happen to anyone, but we cannot argue that in neighborhoods where there is less income & fewer educated people, there is inherently more risk.

So, what do y'all think of me painting my dresser turquoise?  Because that is what I woke up wondering about at 3:50 a.m. this morning.  Will it be too bright?  Will it take over the room?  When will I find time to actually do the painting?  How will I know if it needs a 2nd coat?

Next came the guilt: because the fact is that I have a choice about most things in my life -- the least of which is what color to paint my dresser ... while someone else, in a neighborhood only 4 miles away, is probably choosing the color of something much more important ... the casket for her first-born child.

Maybe the turquoise is too risky. Maybe I'll just go with black, in solidarity.

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1 comment:

The Pace Family said...

Wow I really like everything you said and I wish I had something as profound to come back with lol but I don't. So I will say how terrible I feel for the famil of those kids and how true it is about the risk factor increasing due to your circumstances. Also, go ahead with the dresser, let it be the focal point of the room hehe I bet it would look awesome! Design around it!