Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bridge to nowhere

Crisis are becoming almost commonplace. A few years ago, a bridge collapse or steam explosion, would have kept me glued to the television while sending emails to everyone I know in the area, making sure they all were safe.

Somehow the steam vented before I became totally aware of the problem. And the bridge collapse just didn't compute. Maybe I'm overloaded with my own pressures and problems or maybe I'm getting immune to all of this because it is happening so often.

Today a co-worker and I had a chance to talk and she said, "You know, my brother-in-law lives in Minneapolis...."

Evidently they don't keep in touch regularly with him, but she added. "He was really shook up. He travels that bridge to and from work."

And then she paused. Swallowed. And said, "He had crossed that bridge at six, the collapse happened at 6:05."

We stared at each other. I thought about my decision this morning to use five more minutes to write to my son, putting me on the road to work five minutes later than usual. If that had been her brother-in-law, he would quite possibly be dead.

My friend's philosophy is to shrug and say, "It wasn't his time."

When these events happen, I find it difficult to believe that people die because it is their time. Disasters seem like an intrusion, a foreign, unexpected element that sweeps people out of their lives, rather than 'their time.'

The defects in that bridge. Someone choosing perhaps to cut costs, eliminate a step in the process, take the lowest bid on construction and materials. Those might have been the culprits that determined whether it was 'someone's time' to die or not.

Somehow being raised by independent, hard working blue-collar parents, I came to realize that my life is in my hands and for the most part, I like being responsible for it. But more and more we must trust and depend on others to make decisions that literally mean life or death for us.

People building bridges, cars, or even growing vegetables for mass consumption seem to forget at times their responsibility to the common good, to their fellow man, to god as good stewards. Instead they focus on profit or achieving some arbitrary goal like finishing by a certain date.

Civic duty doesn't just happen at soup kitchens and Habit for Humanity. It happens everyday, with every decision, big or small, that affects more than yourself. What we do and don't do actually makes a difference.

My brother-in-law, an engineer, sent photos of the bridge collapse. Somehow I hadn't seen many of these snapshots of disaster. The one included above strikes me as someone whose time should not have come. Somehow a Good Samaritan arrived to ensure that she lived to return to her family.

Sometimes Good Samaritans are the only ones standing between us and all of the elements of the world. Perhaps we're seeing an angel in a yellow shirt.

It may be a bit late to finally realize the immensity of the latest disasters, but its sinking in. I wonder if our leaders are getting it?

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