"What, then? If he be like to die, he'd better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
-Ghost of Christmas Present, 'A Christmas Carol'- Charles Dickens
Bruce Springsteen once wrote, in his song 'Nebraska', "I guess there's just a meanness in this world". To be honest, I always rejected that notion. Perhaps in the purview of Charles Starkweather, a gun toting multi state serial killer, the person from whose perspective the song is written, there was a meanness in that bleak winter in 1958. And he carried it in his own hands. As for me, the Boss-obsessed 12 year old with that album on repeat in the fall of 1982, meanness was a compartmentalized abstraction.
47 brings a different perspective.
We had a week here in the Northern Tier, an 'epidemic' of heroin overdoses thanks to a particularly potent and vicious batch that has made its way our community. The Williamsport area tally according to recent articles is 50 in less than a week. I lost count here but believe we stand at about a dozen.
At 911, a rapid fire succession of crises like these demand our best. It takes patience and skill to turn the panic, confusion, and fear of a caller into effective action. It is exhausting. Even a positive outcome wears the weight of uncertainty. Will it just happen again? You pray, sometimes that a 'save' is more than temporary. You know that sometimes it isn't. Many times it isn't. And this, you let go. Because you have to.
Many people post the articles, share the warnings, share the official statements, share what they know out of love. Out of concern. So that maybe someone will sidestep this particularly treacherous section of the dangerous path they are already walking.
Which invites the others to comment. How 'taxpayer money' shouldn't be wasted on 'these people'. They are idiots. A waste. They are getting what they deserve. Stupid. Weak. Let them go and 'thin the herd'.
"If they be like to die..."
I'm thinking about grace a lot this week. Grace, unearned favor. The taken-for-granted thing that enables someone to write paragraphs on why 'these people' got what they deserved, the thing that saves that writer, that wielder of hammering opinion, free from the pain and shame and 'expense' of someone they care about being one of 'these people'. May that grace abound. May the measure they measure with never be measured back to them because their words will haunt them, their bitter loss a great anchor. Senseless death can break you in pieces you never knew could be so small.
"These people are....we shouldn't bother...stop wasting resources...."
We seem to be in a season where the meanness in this world has become standard operating procedure. We have a leader whose daily communication is a 140 character fusillade of meanness. Comment sections are more of the same. People seem proud of their indifference. But indifference is the lazy child of frustration. Better answers require a degree of sandbagging against a flood that nobody thinks we can repel. Some, believing themselves on high enough ground, are unwilling to try, preferring instead to pour their contempt on those in the path of the rising tide.
There are faces I will never see again. There are broken mothers and wives I have hugged, unable to offer a single word that would help. The truth is, "these people" are beloved friends that are the worst kind of gone, gone needlessly, gone early, gone unintentionally. But in the end, gone. I don't pretend to understand why. I only know that in meanness, we are less. We can do better. We have to do better.