Sometimes we all need some time alone and at other times that are the last thing we need. I believe it was Carl Sagan, during an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, he roughly stated, in a world as beautiful as this it is hard to doubt the existence of a higher being. Conversely, it is a demon-haunted world where the laws of nature no longer apply. The ice caps break off and send polar bears arctic surfing, storms without due notice wreak havoc on entire cities bringing them to their knees for days, weeks and even years on end. We eat animals like they are going out of style and in a way they are. A lone person with semi-automatic military weapons wipes out entire movie theatres of patrons because he cannot find a job. The warm weather is that much warmer, hurricanes that much stronger and the world still spins on the same axis the same distance from the sun as it did billions of years ago. The number billions does not even sound correct in this context. We used to argue whether human nature is good or bad. We all have our demons and we may choose how we decide to exercise them. However, there are certain sunbeams that reach this earth, and shine and sparkle just perfectly. It touches our spirit. It ignites what is good in us as a human being. Yes sometimes in a world as beautiful as this, one can still refute the existence of a higher being. Sometimes these things just happen. These things happen completely at random as some fringe lunatics attribute global warming or violence in our society. I hope that something so stunningly beautiful touches us all in one’s lifetime.
Things happen in the course of weeks and days and most of it is clutter and much ado about nothing. Little tangents lead us nowhere. Seemingly, little things happen all the time. They will set off repercussions that will affect everything that comes after and there are little chance interactions that are epic and life altering. People and paths are interconnected. The little bit of fuel we all use today may alter weather patterns that we cannot fathom at the time. Alternatively, maybe it is happenstance. We are all little atoms that collide and form molecules and then life altering changes. However, for the most part most of what we do is trivial and random. It is religion of sorts. It is a religion where the end game is not the mission. Rather it is whom we affect along the way.
It was a Friday evening and I just finished my work week at my finance job out in Maryland. I relaxed on an empty Metro train through the District of Columbia and looked forward to going for a run. It was a balmy spring day and the cherry blossoms were a harbinger of the warm season ahead. Spring was magical in Washington, DC. It usually never crept up rather it sprung on you unexpectedly.
I took the bus from the Pentagon to our house in Arlington and walked the final pleasant blocks back to the house. I stopped and talked to two neighbor kids who were sitting quietly on the front porch. I knew these kids were not of legal drinking age as the young man who lived there was in his first year at the local community college. He was a sweet kid who was usually quick with a smile. When he smiled it was infectious. I remember him being more serious than I was at that age. They were at his Dad’s house and it was not my place to pass judgment. Arlington was full on bungalows built years ago as summer homes for lawmakers in DC. It was the oldest house on the block ; the house was painted sky blue.
We were close with all the neighbors on that block in Arlington. It was a close-knit community. That is except for this house. We got along great with the kids however the father was a spot of bother. Jim was a simple man and he was usually pleasant to talk to. However he was a loud proponent of the NRA and it rubbed most people the wrong way. Still we all supported Jim. He was a single father and we included him in cookouts and backyard gatherings and he always showed up with an assortment of Budweiser.
His son and a friend I did not know where sitting on the porch and greeted me warmly. I asked them what they were up to for the evening. They indicated they were hanging out on the porch and drinking beer. These were noble aspirations given the circumstances.
Our house was a minute walk away. With little hesitation I walked in the front door and was greeted by our Beagle Lucy. We were planning a trip to Germany so I practiced my German on the Beagle. She understood my inflection.
Möchten Sie einen Lauf machen?
We headed out the door a few minutes later. I noticed the sky had turned darker and the air felt like rain. The boys on the porch yelled to us to have a nice run. I only planned on running forty-five minutes that day. It was a very easy run mostly taking in the sweet aromatics of spring. Per my usual, it was a looped course that took us through 4-Mile Run. Lucy liked to play in the water in this nice little park.
One bad habit I have, when I am out running, is that when I hear fire sirens during a run, I do a mental checklist of ‘Did I unplug the Iron’ or something similar. It always leaves me a bit unsettled. With approximately a mile left, in this particularly quiet run, I noticed a buzz of police activity in the area. The scream of sirens unsettled me to the core. To be fair, South Arlington had more than its fair share of police activity. However, this was highly unusual. Lucy and I hurried our way home through the last mile.
I turned the corner on our street taking the same familiar route I had taken from the bus stop ninety minutes previous. I could feel the activity from blocks away. There in front of the house where the boys had been drinking beer sat three police cars with flashing lights ablaze. I put Lucy in our house and slowly walked back to the house where the boys once sat. I walked right past the policemen and approached the now eerie looking sky-blue house. Before I reached the front door, our neighbors Sharon and Armando greeted me. They nodded their heads and said nothing for good long time. It could have been five seconds it could have been five minutes. The silence hung in the air.
One of the policemen at the house pulled me aside and started asking me questions. I simply relayed the story about the brief conversation I had before I went for my run.
The officer told me that things did not look good. Apparently after I left for the run, the boys had “broken into” their father’s gun cabinet. Jim’s son had been playing with the gun and it accidentally fired into the body of his friend.
I asked if the boy was going to be okay. The officer simply said No. He may have been dead at the time. I really do not know. They wheeled the body out five minutes later as all the neighbors on 21st Street stood together silently. There were no words to say.
The police told us this was an accidental shooting and there were not going to be any charges in the case unless they received other information. They interviewed Jim’s son and he could hardly form a sentence. I am not sure if they interviewed Jim.
What do you do as a neighborhood after an incident such as this? We did what we always did and we tried to help each other out. The usual instinct is to run and hide from an incident such as this. What we did as a community was, we did our best to keep Jim’s son calm. We all brought a little something over to eat so he would have a little community and assure him it was not his fault. In retrospect it wasn’t. That is something I believe we all reflect on to this day.
There was a common thought going through all of our minds. What it must be like for the father on the other end of the line receiving the news that his son was no longer part of this world.
The last memory of that night was when Jim’s father came into the room. We all more or less asked him the same questions.
“Jim how can we help?”
He replied, “Do you know how to get blood stains out of carpet?”
That is the last thing I remember. I reflect often on many of the unanswered questions of that night. I know we all do.