19 December 2012

The Natural State

by Frank Turk

Yes, I am aware that I stole Dan's slot yesterday, and I am now using my normal slot this week -- the bad news for you is that I will also steal Dan's slot tomorrow and then post a final time on Friday.  You are stuck with me this week like gum on the bottom of your sneaker.

Yesterday, I said you can't ruin Christmas with the death of innocents, and most of you opened up the book of Matthew to start second guessing where I am going with this.  Well, close your Bibles, OK?  Not because they are useless or that we won't get there: close them so you are not distracted by your own Bible-Drill cleverness from what is happening in the world this week.

As I page through the stories about the tragedy at Sandy Hook, this one stands out to me as the current conventional wisdom (even if it got the shooters name wrong).  In it, we find this observation by one of the locals:
At St. John’s Episcopal Church, 54-year-old Donna Denner, an art teacher at an elementary school in nearby Danbury whose classroom was locked down after the shooting, said she feels the same way she did after 9/11 but isn’t sure the rest of the country does. 
“I don’t know if the rest of the country is struggling to understand it the same way we are here,” she said. “Life goes on, but you’re not the same. Is the rest of the country — are they going about their regular activities? Is it just another news story to them?”
Now, let's not run this woman over for her grief at the loss, the violence, and the invasiveness of what happened near her.  She lives in close proximity to a lunatic shooting spree.  What has happened to her and to everyone within driving distance of the Dunkin Donuts in Newtown is a moral and civil transgression of what we think is the natural and safe state of our own homes and lives.  It is to our credit, in a Romans 2 way, that we believe we actually live in a peaceful society.

See: what has actually happened here is not that the unthinkable has occured.  It is that the unthinkable has happened to us.  On the exact same day this tragedy took place, for example, exactly half-way around the world in China 22 children were knifed to death by a lunatic (a repeat of a fatal attack on 23 children in 2010; thanks to alert readers for the correction).  But even in saying that, let's be honest: statistically (Thx, CDC), last week, 662 people died in car accidents.  610 were accidentally poisoned -- that is, they probably drank or ate something they thought was harmless and it turned out that it would kill them, and about 10% of those were children.  476 people fell to their deaths.  If it was an average week in Chicago, 6 people were shot to death.  The President isn't delivering eulogies there.

You know: deaths by medical error outnumber firearm fatalities by a factor of 17:1; deaths by medical error outnumber auto fatalities by a factor of 5:1.  You think you're safe in the hospital, but I would suggest that you're in one of the most dangerous places in the world for two reasons: both you and the care providers are, in all real respect for their years of hard work and real intention to be doing no harm, overconfident.

My point is not to minimize the death of these children, or make you fear the hospital: it is to open your eyes to the fact that the natural state of the world is not safe and secure.  The natural state of the world -- the way it really is all around us every day and we simply overlook it -- is that it is a deadly and dangerous place.  

See: the natural state of things is that people die all the time due to no direct fault of their own.  Families are left fatherless or motherless -- or both.  The oldest child, or only child, is safe on the rainy night driving home from work and is killed the next night when she went to the convenience store for milk and a drunk ignored the red light.  The fellow in the locker next to you at work doesn't realize the safety on the overhead crane is broken, and you have to explain it to the OSHA investigator because you pulled him out from under it, too late.

But here's the thing: this does not spoil Christmas.  It in no way denigrates Christmas, or makes Christmas a joke.  This fact makes Christmas necessary.

We'll consider why tomorrow.


David Cho said...


in China 22 children were knifed to death by a lunatic.

The linked article specifically says, "No deaths have been reported"

FX Turk said...

Scroll down the article, David. 23 were killed in 2010 in a similar attack.

FX Turk said...

I mean: if that's the only measure of evil.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Oh great, now I'm going to be thinking something like an airliner crashing into my house on Christmas morning!
Yes only kidding.

DJP said...

Good word. Barring 1 Thess 4 happening, none of us is getting out of this alive.

Looking forward to tomorrow also.

Robert said...

Death and taxes, right? I'd say that being overconfident applies to us even outside of the hospital. I mean, how confident were these parents that the school was one of the safest places their children could be? And we probably all tend to think our driving skills can compensate for road conditions and how others drive.

This makes me think of how I have seen emergency response vehicles show up at our office at least 4 times within the past year. I'm an engineer and the most dangerous places here are the stairs and corners of aisles by cubicles.

Something about this should cause more of a sense of urgency than I see in myself or others around me.

James Scott Bell said...

Yes, Christmas became necessary back in Gen. 3.

FX Turk said...

Just a quick note: David Cho was 100% right, and I have noted his correction in the post. My snark was unwarranted and I apologize.

Kerry James Allen said...

"There is but a step between me and death." 1 Samuel 20:3 I guess you understand it well when you have a murderous Saul pursuing you for years.

"All men think men mortal, but themselves." CHS

Good job, Frank.

General Soren said...

"A time to be born, and a time to die..."

Liberating, isn't it? Free from the pressure to live forever, we can spend our lives doing things that actually mean something.

Besides, who really wants to spend a millenia working for a schmuck, unable to get promoted because he hasn't died either? 60 years of paying taxes and politics is quite enough, thank you very much.

Tim Bushong said...

Another great post, Frank. "The Natural State" is indeed a breath away from eternity, and I pray that one of the effects of this tragedy is the re-awakening of conscience and a sobering consideration of the important things in life.

Thanks for your work her on Pyro.

Brian Roden said...

Frank, clever title considering where you (and I) live.