Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A View of Not Wanting to Write

It's been a while since I've written anything. It's been a while since I've felt like writing. An idea or two would peek out of the shadows for a quick second, just long enough for me to see a glimpse of a post only to disappear just as quickly. I'd scan websites, read all sorts of newspapers or magazines, watch TV or half-heartedly listen to podcasts, but not one particular topic would linger in my head long enough for me to log on and begin to type.

Some of the ideas were provocative, like an article I read just after the holidays about advertisements posted on the sides of 800 British buses by the Atheist Bus Campaign in an effort to provide a secular counterpoint to a promotion by a Christian group that warned non-believers they were doomed to an eternity of torment in Hell. Here in America, the Atheist Bus Campaign would have never gotten (for lack of a better phrase) any traction because of fears of protest by fundamentalists. In London, however, the campaign barely caused a stir. In fact, some religious leaders welcomed the secularist messages because it spurred conversation about God. I thought about writing at length about this, but let it go. I've talked several times on this blog about my atheism. Going on about it might come across (again, for lack of a better phrase) preachy. I let it go.

Some of the ideas were silly - random jokes sent to me from friends and co-workers like this one:

A Short Love Story
A man and a woman, who had never met before and who were both married to other people,
found themselves assigned to the same sleeping room on a trans-continental train. Though initially embarrassed and uneasy over sharing a room, they were both very tired and fell asleep quickly, he in the upper berth and she in the lower. At 1:00 AM, the man leaned down and gently woke the woman.

"Ma'am," he said, "I'm sorry to bother you, but would you be willing to reach into the closet to get me a second blanket? I'm awfully cold."

"I have a better idea," she replied. "Just for tonight, let's pretend we're married."

"Wow! That's a great idea!" he exclaimed.
"Good," she replied. "Get your own damn blanket."
After a moment of silence, he farted.
The End.


Or this one, which came with its own illustration:


Always Check Your Child's Homework


Dear Mrs. Jones,

I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer. I work at Home Depot and I told my daughter how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out every single shovel we had, and then I found one more in the back room, and that several people were fighting over who would get it. Her picture doesn't show me dancing around a pole. It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot. From now on, I will remember to check her homework more thoroughly before she turns it in.

Sincerely, Mrs. Smith

Both were funny but hard to follow-up, so I didn't write.

Others were uplifting and close to home, like a story my mom sent me about the recycling center my family and I use. Sadly, the city of Detroit does not offer curbside recycling with trash pick up like many other municipalities. Instead, practically all of our trash goes to an incinerator in the heart of the city. Recently, the city decided not to renew its contract to keep the incinerator running, but no firm replacement plan has been established. Plans toward more earth friendly waste disposal have been mired in red tape, held back by our ever shrinking tax revenues, and by flat out criminal behavior. Recycle Here is a glimmer of hope and progress in the city, and it as good to read about it thriving.

Good to read about, but I could not get inspired enough to write about it. Or much anything else. I knew I should write something, but I just didn't care enough to do anything.

Then a couple of days ago, the story of a local man's very tragic death made the front page of the Detroit News. Some kids were playing hockey in the basement of an abandoned warehouse and came across legs protruding from the ice. They thought it was a mannequin at first, but they soon realized it was a person. Instead of doing what should've been done and calling for help, they left the building. They didn't want to get in trouble and they didn't think anyone would believe them. The empty and neglected building is a haven for scavengers and homeless persons, some of whom had seen the body in the ice for weeks. Instead of doing what should've been done and calling for help, they ignored the body. None of them tried to get help. They didn't want to lose their shelter and besides, as one of the men in the article was quoted as saying, they didn't recognize the person's clothes or shoes so they didn't feel the need to try and get help. One of the kids that found the body finally decided to call a friend, who called a friend that worked for the Detroit News. The reporter went to the scene to make sure the story wasn't a hoax, then called police for help. The first call was brushed off with a suggestion to "call 911" instead. The next call got a promise to send out a squad car. The reporter says he waited outside the building with his photographer, but no one showed. A spokesperson for the police said a car was dispatched and officers searched the building, but left after failing to find anything. A third call the next day was disconnected. A fourth call finally led to the discovery and recovery of the man's frozen body.

The reporter decided to write about the experience. The photographer took a photo of the dead man's legs protruding from the ice. The newspaper's editor decided to run the photo and story on the front page. The story quickly spread around the world via wire reports. Some criticized the use of the photo saying that it disrespected the dead - a charge the editor of Detroit News denied. A police department spokesman took offense to the notion that his officers were lax in their duties. Few chose to take the building's owner, one of the richest businessmen in metro Detroit, to task for neglecting to secure his property.

It took a couple of days for the man to be identified. His name was Johnny Redding.

He was 56 years old from River Rouge, a Detroit suburb. It was initially thought that he was homeless and alone. He was not. He was a son, a father, a brother, and a man coping with the loss of a loved one. As I read his story, I thought of my father's death. He died alone in freezing cold water. When he was found, it was thought he was homeless and alone. Like my father, Mr. Redding's body was so frozen it took a couple of days for an initial identification. The autopsy had to wait until his body was able to thaw enough for the medical examiner to be able to run the procedure. As of today, the official cause of death is not known. Homicide has been ruled out. The family is working on funeral arrangements, and there's word that a "prominent musician" has offered to pay for the funeral.

I find myself going back and reading the story and looking at the picture. I wonder about the family and what they must be going through. I wonder about the reporter who had to bring the story to the forefront and how he's coping. I think about Mr. Redding's final moments - whether he was scared, or aware of what was happening. If he tried to call for help and if anyone heard him if he did. The thoughts inevitably make me think of my father and his final moments. They're thoughts I don't want to have, but I can't stop them so I write. It's one time I'm writing because I have to, not because I want to.

More later, after sending my deepest sympathies out to the family of Johnny Redding and anyone who's alone when they don't want to be.

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