John Colson: Hit and Run
There are times, I have to say, when this job is more than a guy can easily handle.
I mean, of course, being a reporter at a small-town newspaper, in a city where things happen that are beyond simple explanation.
Whenever death comes to call on a local family, without warning or expectation, it is one of those things.
Naturally, this happens with regularity, death being one of the few constants in an ever-changing world. And, as the most unavoidable aspect of the human condition, it is something we in our business get somewhat used to.
It’s one thing when it’s a local luminary, a man or woman who has lived a full and long life, made a significant mark in his or her community and then passed off this mortal plane as was his or her due. That’s just the way things go and, as a community and a newspaper, it is not a major upheaval or difficult thing to accept and deal with.
But things are not always so simple.
For instance, when a local woman died in a bizarre car wreck around last Christmas, it was a stunning example of how quickly everything can change, of how unexpectedly and arbitrarily a person who is trying to do things differently, take account of herself and her surroundings and come to grips with her frailties, can suddenly be just gone.
Or, more recently, when a man in seeming good health, with a loving wife and a young child, one day sustained a minor injury in the course of his everyday life and, within a couple of days, also was just gone.
In this case, it was a fairly frightening disease that took the man, a randomly fatal bacterium that opportunistically seized on a specific set of physiological circumstances to blossom into a disease and spread with incredible swiftness. It gave the doctors no chance to intervene.
One can only imagine the doctors’ struggles to save the man from death’s touch, or the family’s shock and grief over the instantaneous unraveling of their lives. Those who were involved, of course, don’t have to imagine anything ” they saw it all, they will suffer from the memories and the loss for whatever time it takes.
As a reporter, it is frequently my unfortunate duty to intrude at some point on that grief for a variety of reasons having to do with the community’s need to know what has happened.
In the most recent case, rocked by the turn of events, people naturally had concerns about the disease in question ” whether it is contagious, whether children are at risk, whether doctors erred in some way that might have been avoided, and myriad other considerations.
In this case, as it turned out, there apparently was nothing anyone could have done differently to change the outcome, and there is no looming community health hazard involved. It simply happened that fast, in a rare combination of interconnected internal bodily reactions, a sort of perfect storm of physical imperatives that took their natural course.
None of this was of any help to the widow, by all accounts a strong and capable woman reeling from life’s unfair blows. Her shock, rage and anguish formed a tangible and powerful force over the telephone line, as have the feelings of others, in other times while reporting other stories.
At times like this I sometimes wish I were still just a simple working-class hero, driving a dump truck or grunting through a day of construction chores, facing nothing more challenging that the demands of a loud-mouthed foreman with a schedule to keep.
Because, as hardened as we tend to become in this business, there are some things that make so little sense, and cause such pain, but still have to be reported and explained as much as possible. It can be a little overwhelming, even though our discomfort is nothing compared to the pain of those we are writing about.
Simply standing at the brink of such sorrow, unsure of how best to respond, is enough to make you think, “Yes, there are times …”
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