Sunday, February 7, 2010

The human mechanism

I watched a revolving door of hospital staff walk in and out of my friend's room, asking her the same questions and getting the same answers, never talking to one another, and not investing a great deal of empathy either. They had seen a hundred cases that day, had seen a hundred more the day before, and would see a hundred more the day after. The surgeon of my friend, whose work was partially at fault for her visit to the emergency room, showed up as well; she smiled and she soothed. She outlined a plan and struck out confidently into the hallway, where she announced "I'm admitting room 32."

Later, I passed a slack-shouldered boy facing the open back of an ambulance, holding onto the nothing inside his pockets. As I went, I could see paramedics inside working hurriedly over someone I didn't know, but likely connected to the boy, who I also didn't know. But I fabled about him a little, while I tried to remember where I parked my car, and how badly the person next to me positioned their own, and about my friend back in room 32. I thought about what was in that boy's pockets, and what he would become as a result of holding onto whatever he had been holding onto. "And that's why..." the story concluded.

Another friend recently concluded emergency service training, and he told me what he had been tasked to do in the event of a disaster, about little colored tags he would use during triage to label assessed victims. I got hung up on black. Black was the color left on people who were dead, or dying. He related a story about his instructor telling the class that sometimes the black-tagged wouldn't even be dead, but had to be left by the wayside so others would have a better chance of living. I vocalized interest, not because of the horror, or the difficulty, but about what that person, whoever they might be, could be thinking about, holding onto the little plastic note left for Death.

Tonight, a few million people are cheering in a big small place in the South because retribution (of a sort) is at hand. The New Orleans Saints are super bowl champions. They're going to talk about what it means, and who it was for, and a sundry of luminous connections are going to result from all the cheering and smiling and clapping and laughing. How bright they are, and will be, will be determined by a different bunch of variables all contingent on something intangible yet real: we come close to describing it, but never closer than heart.

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