Monday, November 27, 2006
THE FACE IN THE NEWSPAPER: A short true story
There are certain places where you just feel good. Where the governing spirit is goodwill, where laughter is abundant and easy, where workers like their jobs, employers like their staff, and anyone fortunate enough to enter their orbit has no choice but to inhale good fellowship, and exhale whatever stress you may have carried to their doorstep.
There aren't a lot of them, but they're out there. The kindergarten class where every piece of art work, every level of ability, every personality is celebrated, the home where all the kids want to hang out because they feel welcomed, listened to, comfortable enough to go into the fridge and help themselves. I can't say what magic formula creates these little zones of affirmation and contentment, but you know it when you enter one.
Oddly enough, my accountant's office, the place we visit once a year, carrying a battered and miserable shoe box crammed with miscellaneous receipts, the W-2 forms that have been misplaced at least 3 times in preparation for the visit, and profuse apologies for the confused state of my finances and my life.
In my back pocket, reserved for later, is the chagrined promise that next year I will keep better records and schedule my appointment before April 14th. My accountant, "Tim," sees through my good intentions, but he humors me. He is an exceedingly patient man.
And even though he pretty much works around the clock as tax time rolls around, he schedule an extra long appointments with all his clients. An appointment with time enough to discuss the kids and the writing, to philosophize a bit over the state of the community and the state of the world, all sandwiched between the usual fare of deductions, exemptions, and tax tables. There's also time for his pretty wife, who exudes her own joie de vivre, to poke her head into the office and say she's heading over to the coffee shop. Would anybody like a cup?
Everything in his office, from the tasteful decor to the photographs of his fine children, his golden retriever, and the little league team he sponsors, seems to attest to a life that's rich in love, community and professional success.
Tim greets me every year as I slide into the chair clutching my miserable Shoe box like a favorite cousin who he hasn't seen since the last family wedding. The smile is that wide. It doesn't fade--even after I dump the contents of the miserable shoe box on his desk.
"Okay, let's start sorting," he says amiably, too kind to mention the obvious--that it would have been nice if I started signing before I left home. Or maybe back in January.
Tim's life was a happy story that turned abruptly dark last week.
On Wednesday, I gasped when I opened the newspaper and saw his photo under the headline, "Motorist killed in collision." I'm not sure whether I reeled more on seeing his face beneath those incongruous and incomprehensible words--or on learning that he was not the the victim in the accident. Tim had been cited with Driving while intoxicated and vehicular homicide.
I do not know the victim, but from the paper I've learned he was a relatively young man, an itinerant carpenter, a good son, and a single father who was raising am adolescent boy. He died in the middle of a cold highway on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon--probably on his way home from work.
I was reluctant to write about this because it involves the immense sorrow of two very real families. But it haunted me; it seemed to demand something from me. In the end, I felt compelled to write about it because it's so easy to make Tim's fatal error in judgment--especially at this time of year. That fatal error is not making prior transportation arrangements before you drink. As we all know, once you've imbibed, it's often too late for prudence and planning.
Could I have made a similar error at certain times in my life? Yes.
This case remains untried. Right now I'm still hoping that the paper got it wrong, that Tim is not responsible for a man's death. What I do know is that if he's guilty, this good man will serve prison time. But I also know that no matter how long Tim is sentenced to serve, it will not come close to being his greatest punishment.
Nothing will erase the memory of what happened on that road. Nothing can alter its finality.