Friday, August 19, 2016

From Movies To News, There's A Lesson


     Given that what I need is arranged each day on tables beside my bed which raises me up into a sitting position with food and computers close at hand it should come as no surprise that I make use of those quiet nighttime hours for writing and for Turner classic movies -- at least those movies which pass the parental controls established by my Priest.
     But even better for my sense of current human community is that the movies are interspersed, at least in my world, with real life drama about actual neighbors whose activities get reported by my police scanner. The police and fire rescue squads in our small town respond each week to calls for help from elderly men and women who have fallen, sometimes down the steps to the basement; to attempted suicides by young people, mostly boys, to reports of fights and/or domestic violence inside/outside homes and fast food restaurants and gas stations; and to grass fires started by a car in a ditch, by hay balers getting too hot and by lightning strikes too close to piles of bales or to a tree line --- or sometimes the strike just hits the plain old ground, killing nearby livestock. 
     In between those are calls from the nursing home for assistance in getting people to the hospital and then from the hospital to the rescue helicopter or to meet the airplane at the airport or for an ambulance transport to larger city hospitals for better, more experienced care.
     A few days ago there was a call to rescue a 65-year-old man who had fallen out of the tree he was trimming and was lying on the ground in, even according to the dispatcher’s carefully worded description, extreme back pain. But then a dispute broke out between two neighboring towns over which squad had jurisdiction over this fellow’s farm and the dispatcher was forced to repeat her distress call to the second town, and the guy on the ground had to wait a bit longer. 
     But bad as that was, it’s probably still better than the comment some guy made on air about the nursing home, saying, “oh we don’t go there anymore in the daytime; they have their own medical staff.” There was a small silence from the dispatcher, at that, and then she, after having probably checked with almost anybody else for a better answer, repeated the call for an ambulance, which was then sent without question. I like to imagine that the fellow who didn't want to go there lost his radio privileges and maybe a lot more than that forever, effective immediately.
     We don’t hear names nor do we get much in the way of ultimate results, but if we ask around we get all the information we could possibly want. These are, after all, very small towns in a very large county with a total population of less than 15,000 people. The word gets out.
     Once in a while we hear a funeral notice on the radio and piece it together from the calls for those taken from nursing homes with unstable stats, extreme weakness or excessive bleeding and it’s no surprise they might have died. But sometimes they also come back, to resume life. One fellow, somewhat younger than the norm, fell out of a tree and hit his head on the way down and was in a coma for more than a year, but now he is walking again and even riding his motorcycle -- not 100% maybe, but better than it could have been.
     Occasionally we get the rest of the story in a tight-lipped news report about the subject whose distress call we heard on the scanner who had been pinned under his vehicle after a rollover accident. We knew he had died. We could hear it in the voices of the dispatcher and the volunteer rescue team, all trying very hard to stick to the numerical script required for confidentiality in on-air transmissions. But when the speed and excitement of a possible life saved diminishes into the slowed down sadness of what’s clearly not possible, they can’t hide it.
     Sometimes it’s sad from the start, such as when a distress call comes in after dark from a witness who has seen a truck driver beating on his wife and kids in the cabin of the truck in the ditch. Even the dispatcher called it a case of possible domestic violence with children involved to give those first on the scene some idea of what they might find, and true to form, there was very little description of what they did find, nor was there much about charges or consequences in the subsequent news cycle.
     We who listen, in prayer -- we who can’t rescue anybody anymore, but can still pray for them -- could well imagine small children either huddled in a corner inside that truck or hiding in the cornfield nearby as their mother tried to absorb the abuse for their sake. All that seemed probable in the days following this and other such incidents is that since no charges were filed and no reported intervention was offered, the family probably moved on and the vicious drama would most likely continue until somebody, years hence, grew up enough to fight back for himself and the others. Of course the old bully could well be the victim himself by then, killed or imprisoned or abandoned in the Alzheimer’s unit, while the children keep on perpetuating his sins upon their own families, kind of in his memory.
   And even with all that, it still could be worse, as it was for the dispatchers and rescuers who answered a call last winter from a child begging them to stop her dad from beating on her mom. What they found when they got there though was not just a beating but a knifing, and blood all over the kitchen from the 20 stab wounds which ended the mother’s life. The dad in that case is still in jail pending a trial for murder and the four children have been taken in by another family, but the officers involved, and this town, may never be the same.
    So that’s kind of my summary verdict from all these sources of story, from movies to scanner to the news; human nature without redemption pretty much climbs straight down the ladder into hell, taking as many others with it as it can. I’m not sure this knowledge is especially good for my own psycho-social health but it does at least remind me of what I’m not missing by being widowed, disabled and otherwise isolated: not a thing.