Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Thunder of silence

"Diane est Morte."

That's what I wrote on a note to a French-speaking colleague today. It was about one of the supervisors and a long-time employee at VOA, Diane Bradley. She died of liver cancer complications today at Sibley Hospital.

I thought I was being clever writing it in French. I should have known better.

I had known Diane for 18 years, but not as more than a co-worker. To some of my other colleagues she must have been someone special, because we all gathered at the center of the newsroom to remember her with a moment of silence.

It was strange. Most days, a room full of reporters would be interested in writing, or criticizing the government or talking baseball. Some of us would be bitching about our latest work project, or the incompetence of management or how short-sighted the latest appointee seems.

But not today.

Today there was silence. We remembered a fallen friend and co-worker. And we actually kept quiet for almost five minutes. One of our own had gone and we would not see her again.

It was tempting to say something, but silence spoke volumes. Often we waste our lives with rapier wit and cutting comments, or we live on the surface. But the death of one we knew brings it home. It realigns the priorities. Finally, someone spoke up and said "Diane was a radio person; she would probably wonder why we're all standing around."

With that we all left and went back to our desks. And the noise resumed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What can you say?

(c) Photo of vigil by Chu XiaoLike many others, I was shocked to see the tragedy that befell students, faculty members and families this week at Virginia Tech. Some people ask the question we all have: "Why?"

This is the unanswerable question. Even Franklin Graham says that no one can answer why. We can only grieve with those who grieve and listen to their pain.

When tragedy befalls us, why is often the first question we ask. It happened when another young man - also a former student from Centreville, Virginia, opened fire on a local police station, killing two officers and wounding several others before being killed himself.

It happened when Timothy McVeigh and his co conspirators blew up a Federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. We asked why again when terrorists flew planes into buildings and thousands died. It happened right after Christmas in 2004 when a massive tsunami killed hundreds of thousands in the Indian ocean.

And then there was Katrina.

Families in the American military ask why their son or daughter had to die. We look to the skies and ask "where was God?"

I know He is there, but could He not have stopped this? Could He not have made the pistols misfire or the police find the gunman before the murders, or reduce the number of deaths?

Yes, He could have, but for whatever reason, He did not and what happened did happen. But that does not mean - as the atheists would reason - that God is not there; it does not mean that He does not care. It does not mean that He cannot act or that we live in a universe where God started the clock and then left us to our own devices.

For me, it reaffirms that life is precious and we cannot presume. It calls forth deep sadness, especially when I see the faces of the victims. It makes me realize that nothing is guaranteed except God.

A friend of mine lost his wife to brain cancer several years back. She died quickly, going from a vibrant woman in her early 50s to a corpse in less than six months. And she was a fervent believer in Christ and in Divine healing.

But she died.

And her husband grieved for her. But he said what he had learned through it all was that God is God and that John 3:16 - "for God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but should have everlasting life" - is true. He has since remarried and moved on, but the memory remains.

I agree with Franklin Graham - We don't know all the whys. We probably will not know them. We look around for someone to blame, but even our railing against the skies or against God or against gun laws or against the killer doesn't satisfy.

But this has made all the petty things that seem to trouble us seem so small - traffic, blackberry's server failing, the stock market's ups and downs. They all pale into vapor compared with the real life suffering and shock we feel. And even as we grieve, more than 120 people were blown to shreds in Baghdad - again - today.

So hold your loved ones closer. And live. Don't just survive. Live!

O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of thy servants for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of thy goodness, lift up thy countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Foot in Neck disease

So the I-Man is history. Stuck his foot too far down his neck to recover and now he's toast. So long I-Man.

The thing that is remarkable about this is that the phrase he used was mild by some hip-hop standards. Granted, it was stupid. It was insensitive. It brought back memories of a time when racial stereotyping and insensitivity was not only blatant, but approved.

But Imus is a "shock jock." He makes his living by pushing people's buttons. This time he pushed the wrong ones and now he's got a pink slip. Maybe he'll do like Howard Stern and go to Sirius/XM where he can say whatever he likes and no one can say 'boo' to him because it's a pay service.

But should we be shocked? I mean don't you know what you're getting when you tune into his show? Or Howard Stern? Or Tony Kornheiser? Or Tucker Carlson? You come to these shows with an expectation of content. And if you hear something you don't like, turn it off. Or call the advertisers (which probably played a bigger role in Imus's dismissal than anything).

I don't listen to Imus. I don't listen to Howard Stern. I also don't listen to Hank Hannegraaff, the man who calls himself "the Bible Answer Man." Why? Because I don't care to hear what they have to say. I have to be responsible for my own thinking; I cannot say "well I hold that opinion because so-and-so does." That's a cop-out. That's dishonest.

Oh, and you can call me white boy, pale face, cracker or honkie if you'd like. I had nothing to do with that and it has nothing to do with me.

Friday, April 06, 2007

You are #*$)@*#$ hosed!

Washington DC FlagI learned something today that I wish were not true.

If you lose money in a DC parking meter, there's nothing you can do.

They have these signs on the side with a number to call if something is wrong with the meter. But when I called it and explained the situation (I had put $2.50 into a four-hour meter and then it went FAIL on me, so I had no time and no money) the operator told me there was no way to get my money back.

Me: "I put $2.50 into a parking meter on I street Southwest and I was wondering ...."

Her: "What's the meter number?"

Me: "You could let me finish my sentence before you ask me something. I'm not trying to report a broken meter; I want to get my money back."

"Well sir we just handle repairs for the meters. We don't give refunds."

"So you're telling me that there's no way to get my money back from this thing?"

Her: "That's right sir."

Me: "Okay. I see I'm on a fool's errand. Thanks."

Her: "Thank you, sir."

I wanted to take a sledge hammer and smash the stupid meter. I wouldn't take all of the quarters; just 10 of them - the number I put in there. But I realize that would be a crime. So I just moved to another meter, one that works, and put in my money for four hours.

So be warned. If you come to our lovely Chocolate City, and you park at a meter, and as you put your money in, it stops giving you time and reads "FAIL" or "OUT OF ORDER" you are screwed. There is nothing you can do. Welcome to the Collective.