Beyond the black and white
Warning, the following is not a happy post. If you're in a happy mood, this will probably kill it. Save it for later.
News reporting is relaying facts, or at least it should be. And when the facts are about human beings, the sterile facts don't always reflect the true depth of the story behind the story.
A small piece about some recent finding of the Henry County Coroner's jury is a good example. A bureaucratic procedure that goes on largely unnoticed, a coroner's jury is a body that makes legal determinations about the cause of death in cases where it's not obvious.
In this instance, there were three deaths investigated, each occuring in Henry county during the month of January, and reported accordingly.
They were all sad, to begin with, as deaths are. But there's two way to read such stories. You can kind of read through them quickly and have a detached view, as if they're distant events and not related to you, not near you, and therefore you don't spend much time thinking about them and quickly put it out of your mind and move on. The fishbowl effect.
Or you can realize that these accounts are most definitely as real as it can get. They actually did happen, and they happened to real people, and people who were, in the final analysis, not too terribly different than you or I. You can imagine the effect on family members or others directly affected by it, and maybe realize the fact that only a few misfortunes separate us from the possibility of a similar fate.
The first was an account of a 14 year old boy, a young teen-ager, who died from smoke inhalation in a fire at his home in rural Cambridge. Tragic indeed, but the details tear at the heart.
The report found that Seth DeShane and his aunt were the only ones at home when the fire broke out. Fortunately, his aunt escaped out a back door of the house.
But Seth didn't realize this. Thinking his aunt was still inside, he re-entered the searing heat and smoke to try to find her and save her. He died in the attempt.
The cool scientific evidence showed that there was over twice the lethal amount of cabon monoxide in Seth's blood. He must have struggled very hard.
They found that fire had begun in the living room where the Christmas tree was located.
One can't imagine the impact this must have on the survivors, and it will change the meaning of the holidays for the rest of their lives.
Then there was the case of a Kewaunee man who died on a cold day in January. He was struck by a train at the North Grove St. crossing.
The man was Raymond L. Jamison, and he was 81 years old, a long life by any standard.
Such a sad and violent way to go after such a long life.
But again, it's the details cooly reported that makes the heart sink.
Police reported that the gates were down and the lights flashing at the crossing at the time of the accident, but it was the day of an ice storm, and visibility was bad and walking was "very difficult" under the conditions.
A witness who saw the incident said he couldn't tell if Mr. Jamison was trying to beat the train or simply didn't see it.
The engineer of the train said he saw the man, blew the horn and braked. He said Mr. Jamison looked up and appeared to be trying to hurry out of the way prior to the collision. He didn't make it.
Then this sentence: "No one claimed the body, so the coroner's office and Rux Funeral Home provided the funeral."
An 81 year old man with no one. Trying to get somewhere in the middle of an ice storm in January. Sees a train bearing down on him but is too feeble and the ice too slippery to get out of the way, and a life of 81 years is ended that way. And no one he knows is there to mourn or see him laid to rest.
The last account was of someone simply snapping under the stress and unpredictability of fortune.
Whether it be relationships, job and/or money issues, bullying, abusive or dysfunctional families, or just the pressure society puts on conforming to some ideal or other reasons, such cases happen by the hundreds daily all across the country, and are probably on the increase. Only the most spectacular get noticed.
On the same day Ray Jamison's long life was tragically ended on a rail crossing in a small town, a Moline man ran amok and took his own life.
He chased his ex-wife in her car and repeatedly rammed into her. He then stole another car and drove it to "a house" in Henry County. There he forced his way into the house, went down to the basement and set several fires. Finally, he then went into the garage rigged up some electrical cord, and fatally hung himself.
Many would dismiss this as the actions of "some nut", and it's certain that the man was mentally unhinged. But humans tend to wig out when placed in situations with which they simply can't cope. This is happening more and more, and when people get to the point where they simply don't care about anything anymore, they can and do cause a lot of damage, up to and often including taking the lives of other innocent victims.
Just one of the many traumatic and costly effects from the Iraq war will be the fact that many soldiers will return traumatized for life and mentally unstable and find it hard if not impossible to integrate back into society. With no apparent way out, many will likely choose to end their lives in similar ways. And many already have.
There's so many thousands of bits of information flung at us from every direction every day, from Brittany Spears to the buffoon judge in the Anna Nichole Smith hearing to who said what to whom in the Obama/Clinton folly.
And buried down in the midst of it is the routine recounting of a bureaucratic proceeding that might just reflect the reality of humanity and society better than all the rest.
Take care of yourselves.