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Niedner: Dramas of daily life ultimately define us

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: November 20, 2013 6:08AM



At last, a truce has halted the latest mud wrestling episode in Washington, which means that national parks and cemeteries will reopen and furloughed federal employees will get paychecks again.

Until it starts all over in a couple months, we can enjoy a break from the ceaseless media coverage of those angry orators, all of them millionaires, dueling over policies that affect them not a whit, but have a serious impact on the lives of the poor and on those who live hand to mouth even in the best of times.

That means we can now return our attention to the news that got bumped, like who tweeted what on Twitter about Miley Cyrus’ titillating twerking. Isn’t that about where we left off when the Great Gridlock began? That story, in turn, had displaced the global handwringing over Syria’s civil war, our potential military involvement there, and the apocalyptic scenarios our intervention might trigger.

What has happened in Syria, by the way? Has it become a new Russian satellite state, the first annexed by a resurrected Soviet Union? Some of us could describe the neckties John Boehner has worn over the past fortnight, but one has to consult British news sources to learn that yes, fighting continues in Syria, but factions there now seem headed for a November peace conference in Geneva.

Sometimes public affairs about which informed citizens should keep abreast seem indistinguishable from reality TV (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Maybe someday all these things will merge, and instead of old-fashioned elections, we’ll choose presidents on a competitive TV talent show. E Pluribus Idol, perhaps?

And who needs Congress when Twitter, or those pesky questionnaires that pop up when you want a weather forecast, could convene us as a legislative body of the whole?

Back in the real world, where I find myself entrenched despite habitual dalliances in the realm of political fantasy and cultural folly, a host of life and death scenarios play out around me. A faithful home health care worker who makes less than $10 an hour tenderly cares for a sweet, old hospice patient who scarcely knows his own name now, but he knows hers. Thanks in part to her ministrations, the old man will die with dignity, not to mention clean underwear, and without bedsores. She barely manages to feed, clothe and provide shelter for her own children, and she has no medical coverage, but in my world, we depend on her and she comes through, day after day.

An ambitious, determined college student I know has gotten within a semester or two of graduation despite having no family to support her, but by now she has borrowed all the funds allowable to pay for school. Don’t we all lose when someone like this sinks into oblivion and hopeless indebtedness with three-fourths of an education, a degree in the field of Almost?

Every day’s obituary pages bear weighty news, not only because each life that passes from our midst leaves us diminished in some way. Each entry also sounds a community alarm. “Come,” it says. “A family, or a newly solitary soul, has entered the valley of the shadow. Sit with them. Listen. Breathe. Bring food, plenty of tissues and words of comfort — but no advice, please.” The shadow can swallow a solitary mourner, but not a community.

The ways in which these mostly invisible but high-stakes dramas play out determine daily whether the fabric of civilization holds, or whether we slip closer toward becoming bands of lost and desperate children, trapped in some nightmarish script like “Lord of the Flies.”



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