I'm not sure, but for whatever reason lately, I've been thinking about the value of a human life. And wrestling with the idea that a human being can actually value another human being's life so little that they would do the kinds of things they do, whether it's torture, sexual abuse of a child, or actually taking someone's life.
I'm not exactly sure why it's been on my mind so much, whether it's the tragedy of Haiti, other stuff you hear about at work, a recent slaying here in town or finding myself in front of several police cars recently whose occupants were hurtling themselves into something at with nearly reckless abandon, the kind that only comes when some human is or has recently done something really wrong to another human.
One thing I think I'm realizing for sure is that while TV and movies might make me desensitized to it, I think that reality -- and reading books -- affect me more. The book thing is interesting to me. When I was a kid, I thought that when someone died on TV or in a movie, that they died for real. I figured they must get paid a lot in advance. I wonder how they were compelled to go through with it and how they'd spend their final days. But now, that premise seems silly. So TV and movies, it's someone acting. But in a book, even though the people never even existed, their non-existent life is now over. Their deaths are, in a way, more real than anything I see on TV. Plus, with a book, your mind has to work harder to picture. It's not handed to you, you have to create the life based on simple words on the page.
But I thought about it a lot the night the police were behind me. I was stopped, several cars back at a left-turn lane. To our left was a raised border between our lane and traffic coming the other way. We had a green light, but everyone knew the cops were there. No one was moving. But the cops, they come up behind us, sirens and the full Christmas tree, and then they lay on their horns, forcing us through the intersection, instead of just going around us in oncoming lanes. A weird move, I thought. So I go around the corner and then they come around a little bit later and we all pull to the corner quickly. So I had the opportunity to watch them/pray for them for about 20 blocks before they crested the hill. I watched as they weaved in and out of traffic, going through the intersection in the left-hand straight lane with stopped cars to the left of them in the left-hand turn lane and to their right. Weird. Anyhow, stopped at this intersection myself, another cruiser comes from another direction, turning in front of me and heading in the same direction as the first two.
By the time I was through the intersection, there was no sign of the cops and for the rest of the drive home, no sign. So, I pulled into my driveway, life as normal.
But for someone that night, their life had been or was in the process of being permanently altered. That's a hard thing to think about, especially when you know that things can happen at any time. Even an earthquake... it's not like TV. There's no music build-up. There's no quiet calm. You haven't just set something down or just closed a cabinet. There's just the second before and then the second when everything changes.
Lori once told of hanging out with someone in high school. A fire engine went by and the friend jokingly said "That's probably my house." Sadly, he would later return home to find out, yes, it was his house and the firefighters were too late. (Sidenote: Eddie Izzard asks "Why do they never play good firefighter/bad firefighter?")