A TEST, AND A TALE
by Ed Tubbs
American Reporter Correspondent
SARASOTA, Fla. -- First, the test. There is a right answer, but sadly, I suspect few will arrive at it. Every event contained within it is 100 percent true, 100 percent factual.
It was Summer, perhaps 15 years ago, when emergency services in San Jose, Calif., received the 911 call from a neighbor. A 30-something man had pinned a six-year-old little girl down on the lawn in front of her house. The little girl was screaming loudly as the fellow continued wildly slapping the sides of her head and face and body.
EMT and police arrived within minutes of receiving the call. The little girl's nearly- naked body was immediately wrapped in blankets. She was placed on a gurney, then lifted into the ambulance that took her to a nearby hospital. The authorities also removed the man from the scene.
Based on the above, what consequences would you recommend for the fellow? Now, the Tale. Everyone's read or seen a version of it, but it's still worth recounting here. It takes place in the American West of the late 1800's.
Ol' Seth has been working his spread for the past 65 years of his life; ever since he was 15. Barely able to, he is standing at the front gate that leads to his property, a loaded 10-gauge in his quivering grip. Sheriff Early Sommers is on the other side of the gate. A seizure notice is fast in his closed fist. As far as anyone can tell, Early has been the county's sheriff for as long as any can recall. And up until this morning, Seth and Early have been friends. In fact, they both used to skip school together, when the morning sun promised a lazy day at the pond, fishin' an' swimmin', worth the whuppin' they'd get when their pa's learnt what they done.
"You git off'n my land, Early. I'll pull this here trigger iffen I haff ta."
"Now c'mon Seth. Put thet durn thing away. You ain't gonna shoot no one. 'Specially me, an' we both know thet."
"I ain't a kiddin', Early. I'll shoot sure as yur standin' there."
"But Seth, I'm just doin' ma job. The judge tol' me I had ta do this, as much as I hate the idea. An' besides, you pull that trigger, one a two things gonna happen: either the slap it gives your chest'll kill you, or you're gonna hit ma horse. An' what the hell has Darlene ever done ta deserve that? You kin see, she's darn near on her last legs an' nearly as old as both a us."
"Well, ahm gonna have to shoot the judge, then."
"But Seth, he's just doin' his job. Ben Webster at the bank said you ain't made no payments lately an' he took it to the judge."
"Gol-durn it, Early. You know well as anyone the prices bin down an' the rain ain't. What'm I spose ta do? Guess I'll have to shoot Ben."
"C'mon Seth. You know you cain't shoot ol' Ben. All'a us bin friends longer than Moses traipsed the desert. Fact is, he was the one'd give ya a loan, when no one else would. So, you ain't gonna shoot Ben Webster, an' you know that too. Besides, wasn't his idea neither. The stockholders of the bank made the rules, and he's just follow'n the rules."
"Then I'll shoot the stockholders."
"Darn it Seth! You're not makin' any sense. Half the town's stock holders, includin' you. What you gonna do, shoot ever one in town, includin' yourseff?
"But, but but," the craggy old farmer's voice now cracking, "I gotta shoot some-un. Jes ain't right, kickin' a man off the place he worked his whole life. Ain't fair I tell ya." The animus that's dividing us today is as heavy and foul as rancid lard.
When my father left the army following World War II, with only a high school diploma behind his name, he got a position as a designer with one of the Detroit auto companies. Including even the few who didn't have that much education, the paychecks of my father and those of all my friends' father's were sufficient for them to buy a home in the suburbs, a new car every three to four years, and raise a family; not ostentatiously, but comfortably enough. Our moms worked as hard as they could in the home, doing the best they could to keep us on the straight and narrow. The jobs our fathers held in the companies they worked a lifetime for included full medical benefits, no deductibles or co-pays, as well as pensions that provided adequately for both husband and wife. Those opportunities, those jobs have been like the radio sports' announcer's call concerning the visiting slugger: "Here's the pitch, the batter swings, and it's a l-o-n-g fly ball to deep right. That ball is going, going, gone. It's outa here."
And the hearts of the middle class today are akin to those of the hometown baseball fans. Except deeper, more hurt, more bruised, more confused, more anxious and fearful. Their incomes have been fairly (the term is used hesitatingly) stagnant for more than two decades. Employer-made promises have been broken like dishes hurled by the Italian actress; just a scattered recollection of what once had been, now a mess on the floor that will be swept into the trash. Only the vague sense of those memories of what was, or should have been, will remain, heaping more hurt and disillusionment and latent fear to the burden of trying to provide for the kids, for retirement. Regardless that numerically there may be more jobs available today, as a clerk or a greeter at Big-Box, get real. No one can live on what they provide. No one.
You know you're not about to shoot anyone. (At least I hope not.) But will you be as genuinely kind, as live-and-let-live, as you would be, if things were different, better, less threatening? There isn't a psychological study anywhere that suggests it's even within your ability to be really different. Human nature is as fixed as Newton's Laws. Oh, yeah: the 30-year-old fellow in San Jose. Once the hands and arms of the motorist who was passing through the neighborhood recovered sufficiently from the third-degree burns he suffered, in a fitting ceremony, the city awarded him its highest medal for saving the little girl's life.
Why? What were you thinking?
You don't need to tell anyone what your first inclinations were. It's no one's business but your own. However, you do need to take a long look into the mirror, into your heart, to try to determine the reasons that your first inclinations were so violent. Did you just wanna shoot ‘im? No matter that your impulse was not to seek more information, more information that would have enabled you to reach the right conclusion. That hostile impulsiveness also needs to be explored, or we're never going to be able to truly live together again. It's entirely up to you and to me, which direction we travel. `
Do we reach higher, to the better angels of our nature, or do we flow with the septic swirl, ever downward - "my way or the highway," slash and burn, winning's the only thing?
Ed Tubbs is a writer and activist based in Sarasota, Fla. This is his first column for The American Reporter; future columns will appear on Tuesdays.